New environmental named professors to give joint seminar Nov. 1

October 22, 2013 under CANR News, Events

Kent Messer, Applied Economics & Statistics.The Delaware Environmental Institute invites the University of Delaware community to a special seminar and reception saluting three outstanding young faculty who were recently appointed to environmental named chairs.

Each of the honorees will present a short talk on his or her area of expertise designed for a broad, interdisciplinary audience beginning at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 1, in 104 Gore Hall.

Following the talks, a reception will be held in the Gore Hall lobby from 5-6:30 p.m.

The three chairs are five-year career development chairs made possible through the support of the Unidel Foundation. DENIN Director Don Sparks chaired the committee charged with selecting the honorees.

“We are extremely grateful to have been able to attract and retain such outstanding faculty in all areas of environmental research here at UD,” Sparks said. “The committee was particularly pleased to be able to recognize researchers in natural science, social science, and the humanities, and we are looking forward to having a stimulating, interdisciplinary discussion at the event.”

Kent Messer, Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair and associate professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, will present “Maximizing Conservation: The Economic Science of Doing More with Less.”

He will be followed by Holly Michael, Unidel Fraser Russell Chair and assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences, who will discuss “Water for a Thirsty Planet: Our Vulnerable Groundwater Resources.”

Adam Rome, Unidel Helen Gouldner Chair and associate professor in the Department of History, will round out the event with “Why Do We Have Environmental Problems? Lessons from History.”

Each talk will be approximately 20-25 minutes long with time allowed for questions from the audience.

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World Food Prize laureate to speak at public event at Mitchell Hall

March 28, 2013 under Events

Daniel HillelDaniel Hillel, winner of the 2012 World Food Prize, considered the “Nobel Prize of Agriculture,” will be the featured guest in the DENIN Dialogue Series at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 4, in Mitchell Hall on the University of Delaware campus in Newark.

The DENIN Dialogue Series engages experts from around the world in conversation with a knowledgeable host and with the public through an on-stage interview format and audience question and answer session. Robin Morgan, professor of animal and food sciences and former dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, will lead the dialogue with Hillel.

For an Iowa Public Television video about Hillel, click here.

At the dialogue, Hillel will be asked about his formative life of learning to farm in Israel’s Negev Desert, his pioneering scientific work, his role as an ambassador for sustainable agriculture around the world, and his studies of water as a force shaping the cultures and conflicts of the Middle East, past and present.

In addition to his talk on Thursday evening, Hillel will present a seminar titled “The Challenge of Managing the Environment Sustainably in a Changing World” on Wednesday, April 3, at 1:30 p.m. in Room 102 of the Delaware Biotechnology Institute. The seminar is open to the entire UD community.

DENIN is also sponsoring an informal breakfast question-and-answer session for students with Hillel on Friday, April 5, at 9 a.m. in the Collins Room of the Perkins Student Center. Both graduate and undergraduate students are welcome; bagels, pastries, fruit, juice and coffee will be provided.

About Daniel Hillel

In awarding Hillel its annual award in 2012, the World Food Prize Foundation said it was honoring him for “his role in conceiving and implementing a radically new mode of bringing water to crops in arid and dry land regions — known as ‘micro-irrigation.’

“Dr. Hillel’s pioneering scientific work in Israel revolutionized food production, first in the Middle East, and then in other regions around the world over the past five decades. His work laid the foundation for maximizing efficient water usage in agriculture, increasing crop yields, and minimizing environmental degradation.”

Hillel was born in the United States but was moved to Israel as a young child and raised on a kibbutz in a farming environment. He was educated at both American and Israeli universities as a soil scientist.

First drawn to the critical needs of the water supply in arid regions during his years of living in a small settlement in the highlands of the Negev Desert, the new approach Hillel developed and disseminated provided for a low-volume, high-frequency water supply directly to plant roots. This research led to a dramatic shift from the prevailing method of irrigation used in the first half of the 20th century: applying water in brief, periodic episodes of flooding to saturate the soil, followed by longer periods of manufactured drought to dry out the soil.

Hillel proved that plants grown in continuously moist soil, achieved through micro-irrigation, produced higher yields than plants grown under the old flooding or sprinkler irrigation methods. Using less water in agriculture per unit of land not only conserves a scarce resource in arid and semi-arid regions, but also results in significantly “more crop per drop,” with the successful cultivation of field crops and fruit trees, even in coarse sands and gravel.

Hillel’s development and promotion of better land and water management clearly demonstrated that farmers no longer needed to depend on the soil’s ability to store water, as was the case when using the previous method of high-volume, low-frequency irrigation. The technology he advanced, including drip, trickle and continuous-feed irrigation, has improved the quality of life and livelihoods throughout the Middle East and around the world.

By integrating complex scientific principles, designing practical applications and achieving wide outreach to farmers, communities, researchers and agricultural policy makers in more than 30 countries, Hillel has impacted the lives of millions.

He has written or edited 26 books on the roles of soil and water in healthy agro-ecosystems. His work includes historical scholarship on the roles of water, geology, geography and food production on the development of ancient civilizations of the Middle East and how environmental influences shaped the cultures and religious beliefs of people in the region.

Recently he has been working on ways to adjust agricultural techniques to adapt to increasing water stress resulting from climate change in order to meet the food and water requirements of a rapidly growing world population. He divides his time between the Center for Environmental Studies in Israel and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

This event is part of the “Challenges and Choices” series of events being hosted by DENIN in 2013 to focus attention on four major environmental challenges facing Delaware: sea level rise and extreme weather events, food and water security, land use and energy.

Article by Beth Chajes

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UD’s Messer gauges Delaware beachgoers’ reactions to offshore energy

October 8, 2012 under CANR News

The University of Delaware’s Kent Messer leads a research team that is conducting two studies at the Delaware coast to determine how people would react to offshore energy production and how that could impact the state’s economy.

The first study was conducted at Cape Henlopen and Rehoboth Beach and involved students surveying beachgoers to see how open they were to the idea of offshore energy, specifically wind turbines and oil drilling platforms.

“The question was how close these turbines and platforms could come to shore before people would no longer want to visit Rehoboth Beach or Cape Henlopen that day,” said Messer, associate professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR). “Would it negatively impact their experience to the point where they didn’t want to be there anymore?”

Other faculty members involved in the research team include Joshua Duke, professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics; George Parsons, professor of economics and in the School of Marine Science and Policy in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment; and Janet Johnson, associate professor of political science and international relations in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The students involved in this survey were Walker Jones of Virginia State University, who attended the CANR Summer Institute; Seth Olsen, a CANR sophomore who is also a Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN) Scholar; and Jacob Fooks, a UD doctoral level student studying business and economics.

Using a computer simulation, passersby who participated in the survey were given the option to have oil platforms or wind turbines, or both, off the coast of Delaware at various distances.

The idea behind the project was that if participants moved the objects closer to the beach, it would result in lower energy costs, especially with regard to wind turbines that lose efficiency the farther out to sea they are located, but the objects would also have a bigger impact on the coastal view.

Moving the objects away from the beach would result in higher energy costs but beach visitors would have a less obstructed view.

“If you go to the gulf coast of Mexico, you see oil rigs off the coast. We don’t have them in the Atlantic but it could happen,” said Messer. “So we used virtual reality simulations, presenting pictures of the Delaware shore and imagining what these structures would look like at various distances.”

The researchers allowed people to indicate the distance at which structures could be placed offshore before they would no longer want to visit that area, choosing to go elsewhere instead.

Messer said that 500 people participated in one stage or another of the survey, with 148 completing the entire 30-minute survey.

The group’s findings indicated that people would be more open to viewing wind turbines off the coast than oil platforms, and that people were generally very open to the idea of having wind turbines at the beach if it resulted in lower energy costs. In fact, only about 30 percent of participants indicated that the presence of wind turbines would detract from their beach experience, while 60 percent indicated the same for oil platforms.

On average, research participants were willing to have the wind turbines just over 2.5 miles off shore before they would no longer have made their visit to the Delaware beaches.  In comparison, on average, Delaware beach visitation would have been affected by oil platforms if they were approximately 6 miles from shore with a significant portion of the respondents reporting that even at 10 miles from shore they would no longer visit the Delaware beaches.

“An interesting result of this study is that visitors to Delaware’s beaches were comfortable with wind turbines at distances from shore that were significantly shorter than the current permitted area which is 13 miles from shore. Whether due to finding the turbines visually appealing or liking having better fishing closer to shore by the creation of artificial reefs around the turbines, there is a significant percentage of the population that approved of the turbines at a closer than we ever imagined they would.” Messer said.

Wind turbines and hotels

The other study involves Messer, his faculty collaborators and his students trying to gauge how proximity to the UD wind turbine on the Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes impacts a tourist’s willingness to stay at certain hotels in southern Delaware.

Using the Cape May-Lewes Ferry as their “floating lab,” Messer and his students auctioned off lottery tickets to willing participants in which the participants could win a free stay at one of three Lewes area locations:  UD’s Virden Center, the Hotel Blue and the Beacon Motel.

Messer explained that the three hotels currently sell hotel rooms either with a view of the UD wind turbine or without a view of the turbine. The goal of this study is to measure how willing people might be to pay to see the turbine (or to avoid seeing them) and, because the hotels are at different distances from the turbine, how proximity to the wind turbine impacts tourist behavior. Overall, about 57 percent of people showed no difference or a preference for a room with a view of the turbine. This number was higher for the more luxurious Hotel Blue than for the other two. The difference in bid amount between the rooms with and without the windmill views was about 11 percent for the Virden Center and the Beacon Motel, and 17 percent for Hotel Blue. These results suggest that some visitors are sensitive to viewing wind turbines and would prefer views without them.

National implications

Messer said that both of these impacts have regional and national implications given growing interest in offshore energy, particularly wind.

“It is important to find out the sense of comfort people have with offshore energy production and who those people are,” Messer said, noting that different classes of people would include those on day trips, longtime beachgoers and coastal residents.

The research projects are funded through UD’s National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Teisha Fooks

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PLSC doctoral student receives prestigious scholarship

September 9, 2011 under CANR News

Josh LeMonte, a first-year doctoral student in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciencesat the University of Delaware, has been awarded a prestigious Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship.

The SMART Scholarship for Service Program, part of the National Defense Education Program of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and administered by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and the Naval Postgraduate School, provides opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate students to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and be gainfully employed upon graduation.

LeMonte, who arrived at UD in May to work in the lab of Donald L. Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Chair of Soil and Environmental Chemistry, says his research is still in its infancy.

“So far, I’ve been doing a lot of literature review. I’ll be trying to fit together Dr. Sparks’ expertise with Dr. Chappell’s needs, and he needs someone who can work on the organic-metal interface in soils,” LeMonte said. “So right now I am planning on doing research focused on the role of manganese in the carbon cycle.”

This work will make LeMonte an active member of the Christina River Basin Critical Zone Observatory research team, which is examining human impacts on the movement of carbon atoms through the watershed ecosystem. It will also require him to travel occasionally to national laboratories to use the synchrotron spectroscopy instrumentation available there.

“We are very fortunate to have Josh join our research group,” said Sparks. “He is an extremely capable student and researcher, and I’m really looking forward to his contributions to knowledge in this field.”

Article by Beth Chajes and reproduced here with permission

For the full original article please visit UDaily.

Photo by Ambre Alexander

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Water science, policy program launched

August 1, 2011 under CANR News

Students in the water science and policy program will have ample opportunities to conduct field research. Here graduate student Justin Bower, undergraduate Tara Harrell and graduate student Martha Corrozi (left to right) use an Australian turbidity tube to measure the clarity of water in Fairfield Run, a tributary of White Clay Creek

The world’s human population is expected to top seven billion by April 2012. Of all the burdens this growing population places on the planet’s resources, none is more critical than the pressure on the world’s fresh water supplies. Just 2.5 percent of Earth’s water is fresh water, and much of that is frozen and unavailable to terrestrial life.

Developing solutions to the problem of meeting the growing need for clean water that are socially acceptable, economically viable and environmentally sustainable is the focus of the new interdisciplinary graduate program in water science and policy at the University of Delaware, which welcomes its first students this fall.

The new program will offer a master of science degree and doctoral degrees with either a water science or a water policy concentration. The curriculum draws on courses from four colleges at UD: the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, the College of Engineering, and the College of Arts and Sciences.

Students in the University-wide program will be advised by any of the 30 or so faculty affiliated with the program. The program will be housed in College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and will be directed by Shreeram Inamdar, associate professor of watershed hydrology.

“We have a really top-notch cadre of faculty representing many disciplines, including hydrology, geology, geography, ecology, climatology, microbiology, plant and soil sciences, environmental chemistry, engineering, resource economics and public policy,” Inamdar said. “We may approach the problem of water from different perspectives, but we share a common goal of better understanding, protecting and managing our precious water resources. The beauty of this program is it provides students greater flexibility in shaping their curriculum and greater opportunities to collaborate with faculty from diverse disciplines and departments.”

The new program was initiated under the auspices of the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN), where staff members Jeanette Miller and Amy Broadhurst helped to coordinate the diverse group of interested faculty and the necessary paperwork and approval process to launch the program.

new website has been created to provide prospective students with information about the program. According to Inamdar, there are two new research assistantships available immediately to students in the program whose adviser has a primary appointment in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“Students who graduate from this program will be able to pursue exciting career opportunities in academia, governmental and nongovernmental agencies, close to home or around the world,” said Inamdar. “The demand for clean, healthy water is going to be very high in the coming century, and so will the demand for our graduates’ expertise.”

Article by Beth Chajes

Photo by Jerry Kauffman

The original article can be viewed online on UDaily.

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Students battle rice blast disease with underground microbes

November 30, 2010 under CANR News

Rice is the most important grain consumed by humans, providing more than one-fifth of the calories sustaining the world’s population. By some estimates, however, global production of rice could feed an additional 60 million people, if it weren’t for rice blast disease, caused by the fungus Magnaporthe grisea.

This past summer, four students from the University of Delaware and two of its partner institutions in Delaware’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR program, Delaware State University and Delaware Technical and Community College, found themselves on the front lines of the battle to defeat rice blast.

Those battle lines have been drawn on opposite coasts of the United States, through a collaboration between scientists in Delaware and at the University of California at Davis, the land-grant institution of the UC system. The students therefore split their summer internship between laboratories in both states.

The project is led by Harsh Bais, professor in UD’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, and is funded by the National Science Foundation.

The full article with photos can be viewed online on UDaily by clicking here.

Article courtesy of Beth Chajes, DENIN

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Don Sparks to receive Liebig Medal from International Union of Soil Sciences

June 21, 2010 under CANR News

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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Sparks wins distinguished mentoring award from Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools

April 19, 2010 under CANR News

Donald L. Sparks, the University of Delaware’s S. Hallock du Pont Chair of Soil and Environmental Chemistry and director of the Delaware Environmental Institute, has won the Geoffrey Marshall Mentoring Award from the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools.

The prestigious award, bestowed in memory of the association’s former president, recognizes outstanding mentoring support of graduate students.

Sparks received the award, which included a certificate and cash prize of $1,000, on Friday, April 16, in Montreal at the annual meeting of the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools. The association, one of four regional affiliates of the Council of Graduate Schools, has members from Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, D.C., and the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec.

So far, during his distinguished 31-year career at the University of Delaware, Sparks has mentored 49 graduate students, from coursework through research and job placement. He has created an internationally prominent graduate program in environmental soil chemistry, authored more than 280 scientific publications and three textbooks, served as an invitational speaker at 67 universities and institutes on four continents, 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.

Yet the accomplishments of his students give Sparks the greatest satisfaction.

“You can be the greatest scientist or engineer in the world, but there’s more to it than that,” notes Sparks philosophically. “Mentoring students has been a wonderful part of my career — nothing has been more meaningful to me than to see them go out into the world as young scientists.”

“We congratulate Don on this terrific accomplishment and also honor his commitment to providing graduate students at the University of Delaware with the finest education possible,” said Debra Hess Norris, vice provost for graduate and professional education. “He is truly inspiring and serves as a role model for so many on our campus and beyond.”

The official nominating package, which was assembled and submitted by Norris and assistant provost Mary Martin, was filled with heartfelt testimonials from Sparks’ former students, as well as the admiration of faculty colleagues.

“The accomplishments of Don’s students are evidence that he provides sound advice with regard to coursework, expects excellence from his students, invests his own time in assuring student success, encourages timely publication and presentation of research results, and assists with placement of graduates in high-profile positions that will advance their careers,” noted Robin Morgan, dean of the UD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Sparks’ students in plant and soil sciences have earned numerous accolades over the years, including three Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor in the U.S. for beginning scientists and engineers; three UD Theodore Wolf Dissertation Prizes; two Emil Truog Soil Science Outstanding Dissertation Prizes; NSF and NASA graduate fellowships; three University Presidential Achievement Awards and other competitive fellowships; and the prestigious Clark Medal for postdoctoral research from the Geochemical Society of America and the European Association of Geochemists.

Former students wrote of Sparks’ concern for their success on both professional and personal levels.

Scott Fendorf, who received his doctorate in plant science from UD in 1992, and is now professor and chair of environmental and Earth system science at Stanford University, wrote: “My impression of Dr. Sparks is that he views his students as his children, and he is truly an amazing (academic) father to all of us — during not only our time as his students but throughout our careers. The time he afforded us to discuss matters of balancing personal and professional activities, where our careers should head, where jobs might be coming, and how to position ourselves to successfully obtain positions we sought were all regular points of conversation. Not only do I consider Dr. Sparks my Ph.D. adviser, but a life-long friend and mentor.”

Maarten Nachtegaal, who earned his doctorate in plant and soil sciences in 2003, and is now head of the In-Situ X-Ray Spectroscopy Group at the Paul Scherrer Institut in Switzerland, noted that Sparks even helped him with a first apartment rental.

“I am Dutch, so when I came to the U.S. I had no credit history,” Nachtegaal wrote. “Don signed the apartment lease for me and my wife so that we could rent an apartment, similarly as loving parents would have done. Don is not only the best mentor I could have ever wished for, but also a great friend for life.”

When asked the secret to his mentoring success, Sparks noted that setting a good example is important, as well as cultivating a positive group dynamic among his students, who are often diverse not only in their academic interests, but also in their cultural heritage.

“I’ve always had high standards,” says Sparks. “I expect a lot from my students, yet I also try to be a nice person. I want to be a really good scientific adviser, and also care a lot about my students as individuals. They see me working hard, too, and I feel that’s important.”

Sparks and his students meet as a group over lunch twice a month, and he meets individually with each student at least once a month. Dinners at his home are fun events that often involve the research group in preparing recipes from the home country of one of their international colleagues, from Swiss fondue to Chinese stir-fry. Such events are entertaining, educational, and help build a strong esprit de corps, Sparks says.

Also important, Sparks says, is giving students the independence to explore research questions, as well as professional opportunities to co-author papers, work on research grants, and present at conferences, which contributes to their maturity as scientists. In fact, some of his students have bypassed postdoctoral research and gone directly from graduate school into faculty positions.

“It’s been an amazing group of students,” Sparks notes. “Whatever I’ve accomplished, they’ve been a big part of.”

Article by Tracey Bryant
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

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UD scientists featured in top environmental science journal

January 29, 2010 under CANR News

Research performed by Matthew Ginder-Vogel, associate scientist in the Delaware Environmental Institute, Gautier Landrot, a graduate student in environmental soil chemistry at the University of Delaware, and Donald L. Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Chair of Soil and Environmental Chemistry and director of the Delaware Environmental Institute, is featured in this month’s special issue of Environmental Science and Technology, the premier environmental science and engineering journal in the world.

Read the full story online here at UDaily.

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