The UW–Madison Department of Soil Science is one of the oldest, largest, and most prominent soil science departments in the United States. It is globally renowned for its excellence in soil research and education. The department’s mission is to provide instruction, research, and extension leadership in soil chemistry, physics, biology, and pedology to economic and
sustainable land use. Programs are designed to improve basic understanding and practical
management of soil resources in natural, agricultural, and urban ecosystems, and to serve local,
state, national, and global interests. The department implements the Wisconsin Idea to the
extended community and provides all generations with an appreciation of soil as a key natural
resource and thorough understanding of the scientific basis of the environment and agriculture.
Soil science entails understanding soils and applying the principles of physics, chemistry,
mathematics, and biology to the sustainable management of soil and the environment. Soil
science deals with the effects of climate change and its interaction with the soil, with scarcity of
water resources, and the increase of food production to feed 9 billion people. The link between
soils and biodiversity as well as the effects of soils on biofuel production is widely researched in
the Department of Soil Science.
The department is committed to integrated programs of instruction, research, extension, and
outreach that address societal goals of responsible stewardship of soil and water resources.
SOIL SCIENCE, M.S.
The importance of soils in crop production, environmental issues, turf and grounds management,
soil conservation, global climate change, carbon sequestration, rural and urban planning, and
waste disposal are integrated into the department’s course offerings and research programs.
Graduate study in soil science provides the basic and applied scientific training needed for
teaching, research, and other professional work in the agricultural, earth, and environmental
sciences. The department office provides information concerning career placement and available
Graduates from the department occupy leading positions in industry, government, education,
and research in agriculture, natural resources and environmental science throughout the world.
Of the more than 1,000 alumni of the department’s graduate program, many are deans,
directors, chairs, faculty, and staff at universities in the U.S. and other countries, or in leading
positions in government, regulatory agencies, research institutions, agribusinesses, chemical
industries, and recreational and conservation organizations.
The number of graduate students enrolled in the program over the past 10 years has averaged
20 per year, with about half pursuing master’s degrees and half pursuing doctorates. International
students generally comprise about 30% of the total. Department faculty also direct additional
graduate students in multidisciplinary research in soils-related programs.
Research in the department focuses on an improved understanding of the soil, as well as on
interactions between soil and the people of Wisconsin. The faculty have extensive and long-term
experience and knowledge about the soils of Wisconsin, their genesis, properties and
management. The department has an exciting suite of research activities ranging from the
molecular level to the global. Research focuses on topical themes like climate change and soil
changes to land use effects of biofuel production to DNA fingerprinting of soil life.
Many field-research projects on soil and water problems are conducted in cooperation with state
and federal agencies, agribusinesses, municipalities, and private farmers. The department
cooperates closely with the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, Molecular and
Environmental Toxicology Center, and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service in
conducting soil surveys and addressing problems of groundwater shortages and contamination.
Relationships between soils and forests are studied at tree nurseries and in state, private, and
commercial forests throughout the state in cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of
Natural Resources and the pulp and paper industry.
Through a long commitment of our staff to international agriculture, the department has assisted
in the creation of agricultural colleges in several developing countries and has attracted
outstanding international graduate students. Current research involvement includes Brazil, Chile,
China, Trinidad-Tobago, Spain, Australia, Argentina, and Antarctica.
Many department faculty have been recognized nationally and globally for their contributions to
soil science. Three of only four soil scientists appointed to the National Academy of Sciences are
from the UW–Madison Department of Soil Science. Several faculty members have received local
and national academic, professional-society, trade-association, and industrial prizes and awards
for teaching, research, and extension education and serve on important state, national, and
international committees. Many faculty members have been recognized for their contributions
by election to honorary fellowship in the Soil Science Society of America, the American Society
of Agronomy, and allied professional societies.
Our faculty are heavily involved in cooperative interdisciplinary research undertakings with
scientists and organizations within and beyond the university, such as UW–Madison’s Gaylord
Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, Molecular and Environmental Toxicology Center,
Environmental Chemistry and Technology Program, and other science departments, state
agencies, environmental consulting and service companies, agribusinesses, and trade
Research in the department can be conducted in the field, in the laboratory, behind the desktop,
but is commonly conducted in a combination. The department is equipped with all necessary
laboratory, computing, and field facilities for graduate training and research. State-of-the-art
scientific instrumentation includes soil moisture tension apparatus; flame-emission and atomicabsorption
spectrophotometers and gamma-ray spectrometers; neutron activation analysis
equipment; an inductively coupled plasma (ICP)-emission spectrometer and an ICP-mass
spectrometer; thin-layer, high-performance liquid, gas, and ion chromatographs; low-mass
isotope ratio mass spectrometer; micro-respirometers; micro-titer-plate counters; infrared and
ultraviolet spectrophotometers; phase-contrast, polarizing and epifluorescence microscopy and
photomicrography equipment; eddy correlation systems for heat, moisture, and CO2 fluxes;
ground-penetrating radar; high-resolution digital imaging; dynamic light scattering and particle
electrophoresis equipment; flow field flow fractionation; and accelerated solvent extractor. Field
equipment includes a truck-mounted hydraulic soil probe with well-drilling capabilities; a plotfield
harvest combine; various production field equipment (planters, tillage equipment, rainfall
simulator); differential-global position system; and particle counter.
Excellent data-collection, datalogging, computing, and networking facilities are available for
basic research and graduate training. In addition to computing facilities maintained by individual
researchers for their students, the department makes available to its graduate students a
computer graphics facility for the production of sophisticated graphic output.
Specialized facilities are available for research in molecular biology, modern environmental
microbiology, in vitro toxicology and bioassays, and contaminated-site remediation. Soils
graduate students and faculty have shared access to major advanced physicochemical, x-ray, and
electron microscopy analytical equipment through the Materials Science Center, National
Magnetic Resonance Facility at Madison, National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven
National Laboratories, and other UW–Madison science and engineering departments. Facilities,
vehicles, machinery, and instrumentation are available for conducting field experiments at ten
strategically located UW Agricultural Research Stations and the O.J. Noer Turfgrass Research
and Education Facility. Fieldwork for agricultural production and environmental protection is
supported by daily information from the CALS agricultural weather-station network as well as
soils, crops, land-use, and natural resources analysis using land information systems and
geographic information systems.
A foundation in the basic sciences is essential for graduate study in soil science. The program
requires all students to have successfully completed the pre-requisite or equivalent coursework
listed below. Admission with deficiencies is possible but is likely to delay completion of graduate
The following courses are generally completed in an undergraduate program; however, if these
requirements have not been met, they will need to be satisfied during the M.S. program.
MATH 221 Calculus and Analytic Geometry 1 4-5
or MATH 222 Calculus and Analytic Geometry 2
STAT 301 Introduction to Statistical Methods 3
& CHEM 327
Advanced General Chemistry
and Fundamentals of Analytical Science
or CHEM 103/104 General Chemistry I
PHYSICS 103 General Physics 4
BIOLOGY/ BOTANY/ ZOOLOGY 151 Introductory Biology 3
or BOTANY/ BIOLOGY/ ZOOLOGY 152 Introductory Biology
or BOTANY 500 Plant Physiology
or BOTANY/ F&W ECOL/ ZOOLOGY 460 General Ecology
or BIOCHEM 501 Introduction to Biochemistry
or BIOCHEM 507 General Biochemistry I
The following materials must be submitted when applying to the program: an online application,
official transcripts, Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores, and three references. TOEFL scores
are required for applicants whose native language is not English. Because graduate requirements
presuppose extensive science coursework, continuing undergraduate students are encouraged to
select undergraduate courses carefully if they are considering advanced degrees in soil science.
Applications for summer session should be submitted by April 15, fall semester by June 15, and
spring semester by November 15.
Graduate School Admissions
Graduate admissions is a two-step process between academic degree programs and the
Graduate School. Applicants must meet requirements of both the program(s) and the Graduate
School. Once you have researched the graduate program(s) you are interested in, apply online.
Graduate School Resources
Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships,
traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate
School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and processes related to
Financial support is usually available to qualified students in the form of research assistantships,
mostly funded from research grants; final decision for granting a research assistantship rests with
the professor(s) supervising the research. Any assistantship for at least one-third time qualifies a
student for remission of tuition (though students may be responsible for other administrative
fees). The department does not offer teaching assistantships. A number of Graduate School
fellowships are available to new students with outstanding records. The deadline for application
for these competitive fellowships is early January of each year. The department selects the most
qualified applicants and forwards their dossiers to a campus-wide selection committee. Support
for graduate assistantships is available through two Wisconsin Distinguished Fellowships (the
W.R. Kussow/Wisconsin Turfgrass Association and the Leo M. Walsh/Wisconsin Fertilizer and
Chemical Association), the C.B. Tanner Agricultural Physics Award Fund, and the Charles and
Alice Ream Soil and Water Protection Research Fund. In addition, there are two awards given
annually to outstanding incoming graduate students, the O.N. Allen Graduate Fellowship for
Agriculture and the Kelling Soil Fertility Award.
On This Page
Minimum Graduate School Requirements
Minimum Graduate School Requirements
Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition
to the program requirements listed below.
MODE OF INSTRUCTION
Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No No
Mode of Instruction Definitions
Evening/Weekend: These programs are offered in an evening and/or weekend format to accommodate
working schedules. Enjoy the advantages of on-campus courses and personal connections, while keeping
your day job. For more information about the meeting schedule of a specific program, contact the program.
Online: These programs are offered primarily online. Many available online programs can be completed
almost entirely online with all online programs offering at least 50 percent or more of the program work
online. Some online programs have an on-campus component that is often designed to accommodate
working schedules. Take advantage of the convenience of online learning while participating in a rich,
interactive learning environment. For more information about the online nature of a specific program,
contact the program.
Hybrid: These programs have innovative curricula that combine on-campus and online formats. Most hybrid
programs are completed on-campus with a partial or completely online semester. For more information
about the hybrid schedule of a specific program, contact the program.
Accelerated: These on-campus programs are offered in an accelerated format that allows you to complete
your program in a condensed time-frame. Enjoy the advantages of on-campus courses with minimal
disruption to your career. For more information about the accelerated nature of a specific program, contact
Half of degree coursework (15 credits out of 30 total credits) must be completed
graduate-level coursework; courses with the Graduate Level Coursework attribute are
identified and searchable in the university’s Course Guide
3.00 GPA required.
Required courses in soil science must be completed with a grade of B or better (BC and
C may not be offset by AB and A). For all other courses, the requirement is an average
record of B or better in all work taken as a graduate student.
Students are expected to present a written research plan to their committee no later
than the end of the third semester of M.S. graduate work.
Candidates must present an open seminar on their M.S. thesis research, and pass a
comprehensive examination (either oral, or an oral–written combination if requested by
the candidate) on the graduate work offered in support of their candidacy.
Deposit of the master’s thesis is required.
No language requirements.
SOIL SCI 301 General Soil Science 4
SOIL SCI 325 Soils and Landscapes 3
SOIL SCI 728 Graduate Seminar 1 1
At least one course from 3 of the following 5 subject areas: 9
SOIL SCI 322 Physical Principles of Soil and Water Management
SOIL SCI/ AGRONOMY/
ATM OCN 532
SOIL SCI 622 Soil Physics
SOIL SCI 321 Soils and Environmental Chemistry
SOIL SCI 621 Soil Chemistry
SOIL SCI/ BOTANY/ HORT 626 Mineral Nutrition of Plants
SOIL SCI/ PL PATH 323 Soil Biology
SOIL SCI/ MICROBIO 523 Soil Microbiology and Biochemistry
SOIL SCI/ CIV ENGR 623 Microbiology of Waterborne Pathogens and Indicator
SOIL SCI/ AGRONOMY/
Plant Nutrition Management
SOIL SCI/ ENVIR ST/
LAND ARC 695
Applications of Geographic Information Systems in Natural
GEOG/ CIV ENGR/ ENVIR ST 377 An Introduction to Geographic Information Systems
SOIL SCI 990 Research 2 1-
M.S. candidates must enroll in a minimum of 7 credits non-research soils and/or non-soils courses at the
500 level or higher. This should include 1 credit of SOIL SCI 728 (presentation semester).
1 All M.S. candidates must present at least one SOIL SCI 728 Graduate Seminar for a letter grade >/= B or
equivalent during M.S. program. Each candidate must enroll in SOIL SCI 728 Graduate Seminar every fall
and spring semester; exceptions require the approval of the department chair.
2 M.S. candidates must enroll in a minimum of 1 credit of SOIL SCI 990 Research every semester.
Graduate School Policies
The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information
regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the
minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by
the academic degree program can be found below.
Graduate Program Handbook
A Graduate Program Handbook containing all of the program’s policies and requirements is
forthcoming from the program.
Graduate Work from Other Institutions
With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 12 credits of
graduate coursework taken during graduate study at other institutions. coursework
earned five or more years prior to admission to a master’s degree is not allowed to
With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 7 credits of
graduate coursework numbered 300 or above from a UW–Madison undergraduate
degree. The coursework may also count toward the 50% graduate coursework
requirement if the courses are numbered 700 or above. Coursework earned five or
more years prior to admission to a master’s degree is not allowed to satisfy
UW–Madison University Special
With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 15 credits of
coursework numbered 300 or above taken as a UW–Madison University Special
student. The coursework may also count toward the 50% graduate coursework
requirement if the courses are numbered 700 or above. coursework earned five or
more years prior to admission to a master’s degree is not allowed to satisfy
The Graduate School regularly reviews the record of any student who earned grades of BC,
C, D, F, or Incomplete in a graduate course (300 or above), or grade of U in research
credits. This review could result in academic probation with a hold on future enrollment or
in being suspended from the Graduate School.
ADVISOR / COMMITTEE
The master’s examination committee consists of at least three faculty members of
defensible breadth, a minimum of two drawn from the soil science faculty. Defensible
breadth shall be subject to certification committee approval. The third member of the
committee must have a degree equivalent to that pursued by the student and be approved
by the certification committee.
A proposed program for a M.S. candidate satisfying the minimum course requirements
must be approved by the certification committee by the end of the first semester of M.S.
graduate work. It is the responsibility of the student and the major professor to complete
the departmental M.S. certification forms, arrange to be certified by the certification
committee, and arrange for approval of revisions in the initial program if this becomes
CREDITS PER TERM ALLOWED
Students enrolled full time are expected to complete their degree requirements within two
to three years.
Financial support is available to qualified M.S. and Ph.D. students in the form of research
assistantships. Most assistantships are funded through research grants, and the final decision
rests with the professor(s) supervising the research. A research assistantship for at least onethird
time qualifies a student for remission of all tuition. The department does not offer
teaching assistantships. Graduate School fellowships are also available.
Graduate School Resources
Take advantage of the Graduate School’s professional development resources to build skills,
thrive academically, and launch your career.
UW–Madison offers a wealth of resources intended to enrich your graduate studies and enhance
your professional skills. Starting your very first year on campus, it is expected that you will take
full advantage of the career and professional development resources that best fit your needs and
support your goals. Since our alumni thrive not only in academia but also in industry, corporate,
government, and non-profit arenas, we strive to be in-tune, holistic, and innovative in our
approach to meeting the diverse professional development needs of our students. By actively
participating in these professional development opportunities, you will build the skills needed to
succeed academically at UW–Madison and to thrive professionally in your chosen career.
1. Articulates, critiques, and elaborates theories, research methods, and approaches in soil
2. Identifies sources and assembles evidence addressing questions or challenges in soil science.
3. Understands the field of soil science in historical, social, and global contexts.
4. Selects and/or utilizes the appropriate methodologies and practices for soil science research.
5. Evaluates or synthesizes information addressing research questions.
6. Communicates clearly in oral and written forms.
7. Recognizes and applies principles of ethical and professional conduct.
Associate Professor Francisco Arriaga
Applied Soil Physics, Soil and Water Management and Conservation: Conservation
agriculture systems; development of conservation tillage practices that enhance soil quality,
soil hydraulic properties, and plant water use through the adoption of cover crops and noninversion
tillage for traditional cropping systems.
Professor Nicholas Balster
Soil Ecology, Plant Physiological Ecology, and Education: Energy and material cycling in
natural and anthropogenic soils including forests, grasslands, and urban ecosystems; stable
isotope ecology; environmental education; nutrition management of nursery soils; tree
physiology, production and response; ecosystem response to global change; urban
ecosystem processes; invasive plant ecology; biodiversity.
Professor Phillip Barak
Soil Chemistry and Plant Nutrition: Nutrient cycling; nutrient recovery from wastewater;
molecular visualization of soil minerals and molecules; soil acidification.
Professor William Bleam
Surface and Colloid Chemistry: Physical chemistry of soil colloids and sorption processes,
chemistry of humic substances, factors controlling biological availability of contaminants to
microorganisms, magnetic resonance and synchrotron studies of adsorption and
Assistant Professor Zachary Freedman
Soil Microbiology and Biochemistry (tentative start date June/July 2020)
Professor Alfred Hartemink
Pedology, Digital Soil Mapping: Application of fundamental soil science to real-world
problems; digital soil mapping; history and philosophy of soil science; pedology, soil survey,
and soil information systems.
Assistant Professor Jingyi Huang
Proximal and Remote Sensing: Technology to improve fundamental understanding of
sol physical processes; Soil sensing technology and digital soil mapping techniques
Professor Carrie Laboski
Soil Fertility and Nutrient Management: Sustaining agricultural production and
environmental quality; elucidate the biogeochemistry and subsequent best management
practices for N, P, and K fertilizers and animal manures; soil fertility related to lime,
secondary, and micronutrients; evaluation of soil and plant diagnostic tests; development of
tools to assist producers, ag. professionals, and regulatory agencies to sustain economically
sound production of grain and forage crops.
Professor Joel Pedersen
Environmental Chemistry/Biochemistry: Behavior of organic contaminants,
macromolecules, and engineered nanoparticles in natural and engineered environments.
Professor Matthew Ruark
Soil Fertility and Nutrient Management: Soil fertility and management of grain biofuel, and
vegetable crops; cover crop management; agricultural production and water quality;
sustainability of dairy cropping systems; soil organic matter management.
Professor Douglas Soldat
Turfgrass and Urban Soils—Turfgrass, urban soils, nutrient management, water resources,
soil testing, landscape irrigation; soil contamination.
Professor Stephen Ventura
Geographic Information Systems (Joint w/Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies):
Geographic information systems (GIS), biofuels and production on marginal lands, public
participation GIS, urban agriculture, land-scape process modeling, soil survey and soil
information systems, land and resource tenure, GIS and land use planning.
Assistant Professor Thea Whitman
Soil Ecology, Microbiology, and Biogeochemistry: Soil microbial ecology; organic matter
decomposition and carbon stabilization; global environmental change; stable isotopes;
linking functional significance of microbial communities with ecosystem processes; fire
effects on soil carbon and microbes; management and policy.
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Carol Duffy, Graduate Admissions
Department of Soil Science
1525 Observatory Drive
Julie Garvin, Graduate Coordinator
Department of Soil Science
1525 Observatory Drive
Steve Ventura, Director of Graduate Studies
Department of Soil Science
1475 Observatory Drive