This summer, Donald Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Chair in Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Delaware and director of the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN), will receive the Liebig Award from the International Union of Soil Sciences for outstanding contributions in soil science research, revealing new discoveries, techniques, inventions, or materials related to soils and the environment.
The award, which consists of an engraved medal, a certificate, and honorarium, will be presented to Sparks on Aug. 5 at the 19th World Congress of Soil Science in Brisbane, Australia. It will mark only the second time the award has been given by the 150,000-member society, which was founded in 1924.
“This is thoroughly deserved and recognizes the very substantial and outstanding contributions you have made to the advancement of soil science and, in particular, the application of sound science to the study of soils throughout your career,” noted Roger S. Swift, president of the International Union of Soil Sciences, in the official award letter.
Sparks’ research focuses on soil and environmental chemistry — specifically the reaction rates of metals and nutrients with mineral surfaces and soils and impacts on bioavailability and transport in soils and water.
The Sparks lab utilizes high-tech tools to reveal the basic mechanisms behind these interactions. Recently, Sparks and his research team developed a new analytical method using quick-scanning X-ray absorption spectroscopy (Q-XAS) that scientists can use to pinpoint, at the millisecond level, what happens as harmful environmental contaminants such as arsenic begin to react with soil and water under various conditions.
“I am very honored to be recognized with the Liebig Medal because it is an award for which you must be nominated by your peers and also because of its distinguished namesake,” Sparks says.
Justus von Liebig, after whom the award is named, was a German chemist and professor (1803-1873) who discovered that nitrogen is an essential nutrient in plants. Liebig made significant contributions to agricultural chemistry and is regarded as one of the greatest chemistry teachers of all time, having developed the modern laboratory method of teaching the subject.
Since joining the UD faculty 31 years ago, Sparks has created an internationally prominent graduate program in environmental soil chemistry in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, authored more than 284 scientific publications and three textbooks, mentored 50 graduate students and 25 postdoctoral researchers, and served as an invitational speaker at 79 universities and institutes on four continents.
He has successfully competed for more than $31 million in research contracts and grants and won numerous awards and honors, including the University’s highest academic recognition, the Francis Alison Award, and UD’s Doctoral Student Advising and Mentoring Award, of which he was the first recipient.
Earlier this year, Sparks won the Geoffrey Marshall Mentoring Award from the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools for outstanding mentoring support of graduate students.
Among his many accolades, Sparks is the recipient of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sterling B. Hendricks Medal, a McMaster Fellowship from the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO), the Soil Science Research and M. L. and Chrystie M. Jackson Soil Chemistry/Mineralogy Awards, and the Environmental Quality Research Award. He also is an ISI Highly Cited Researcher.
Sparks is a fellow of the Soil Science Society of America, the American Society of Agronomy, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Geochemical Society, and the European Association of Geochemists. He serves on the editorial boards of seven soil science, environmental science, and geochemistry journals.
Sparks served as the chair of UD’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences for 20 years and is past president of the Soil Science Society of America and the International Union of Soil Sciences.
Article by Tracey Bryant
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