UD’s Sparks to chair national soil science committee

April 19, 2013 under CANR News

Donald SparksDonald L. Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Chair in Soil and Environmental Chemistry at the University of Delaware, has been appointed to a three-year term as chair of the U.S. National Committee for Soil Science (USNC/SS).

From 1999 to 2008, he was an ex-officio member of the USNC/SS and has served as a full member of the committee since 2010.

The USNC/SS advises the National Academies on issues related to soil science and is also the formal representative of the U.S. soil science community to the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS). It provides input to the union on behalf of U.S. soil scientists, arranges for scientific meetings in the United States in consonance with the union’s objectives, and directs attention to soil science research needs.

“I am honored to serve as chair of the U.S. National Committee for Soil Science,” Sparks said. “Soil science is at the center of all the major global challenges we face today including water, land degradation, climate change, contamination and food security. As chair of the committee, I will work with my colleagues to promote the importance of soil and the discipline of soil science to the global community.”

“I cannot imagine a better lead representative of the U.S. soil science community than Don Sparks,” said Paul Bertsch, the outgoing chair of the USNC/SS and professor of environmental chemistry and toxicology at the University of Kentucky. “He is among the most respected soil scientists worldwide. He brings critical leadership skills along with a deep recognition of the primary international soil science societies as well as the most important issues surrounding this global resource.”

The USNC/SS is one of several U.S. national committees focused on specific scientific disciplines within the National Research Council’s (NRC) Board on International Scientific Organizations. The national committees as a whole perform the dual function of fostering U.S. participation in international science and fortifying communication linkages between the U.S. and international scientific communities.

In addition to addressing research needs in their respective fields, the national committees are encouraged to work together to identify areas where cross-disciplinary teamwork may be more effective.

In addition to Sparks, the USNC/SS is composed of 10 at-large members, six members representing various allied scientific societies, and several ex officio and staff members representing the National Academies, of which the NRC is one branch. All committee members must be approved by the chair of the NRC.

Sparks has been active in the international soil science community for many years. He served as the president of the IUSS from 2002–06 and past president from 2006–10. In 2010 he received that organization’s von Liebig Medal for his outstanding contributions to soil science research and, most recently, was elected an honorary member of IUSS.

Sparks is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Soil Science Society of America, the Geochemical Society, and the European Society of Geochemists. He has also served as president of the Soil Science Society of America.

Sparks has been a faculty member in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources since 1979 and served as chair of the department for 20 years. He was the first recipient of UD’s Outstanding Graduate Advising and Mentoring Award. In 1996, he received the Francis Alison Award, the highest academic honor bestowed at UD.

Article by Beth Chajes

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UD’s Sparks one of six soil scientists honored at international meeting

July 3, 2012 under CANR News

Donald L. Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Chair in Soil and Environmental Chemistry in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and director of the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN), was recently elected an honorary member of the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS).

The honor was announced at the IUSS meeting on June 6 in Jeju, Korea. It is the highest honor awarded by the professional society, which represents more than 50,000 soil scientists from around the world.

Sparks was one of just six soil scientists presented with the honorary membership this year, and he is only the 15th American so recognized since the IUSS was founded in 1924.

“I am told that I am the youngest soil scientist ever elected for this honor,” Sparks said. “To say the least, I am deeply honored.”

In his letter nominating Sparks for the recognition, Paul M. Bertsch of the U.S. National Academies Committee for Soil Science, cited Sparks’ research in the areas of kinetics of soil chemical processes, surface chemistry of soils and soil components using in-situ spectroscopic and microscopic techniques, and the physical chemistry of soil potassium.

Sparks has pioneered the application of chemical kinetics to soils and soil minerals, including the development of widely used methods, elucidation of rate-limiting steps and mechanisms, and coupling of kinetic studies with molecular scale investigations, particularly synchrotron-based x-ray absorption spectroscopy.

“His discoveries on the formation and role of surface precipitates in the retention, fate and transport of metals in natural systems have received worldwide attention and had major impacts in the areas of sorption models, metal speciation and soil contamination and remediation,” Bertsch said.

Bertsch also cited Sparks’ extensive service to the International Union of Soil Sciences. He has served as president (2002-06) and past president (2006-10) of IUSS, and was a member of the Presidential Election Committee (2010). He currently serves in the Electoral Committee and chairs the Committee on Statutes and Structures. He received the society’s von Liebig Medal in 2010 for career achievements in soil science research.

Sparks was also vice chair (elected in 1994) and then chair (elected in 1998) of the Soil Chemistry Commission of the International Soil Science Society. He assisted in organizing a number of symposia and presented plenary and keynote lectures at IUSS Congresses.

From 1999 to 2008, he served as ex-officio member in the National Research Council’s U.S. National Committee for Soil Science, serving as full member of the committee since 2010. He also served as president of the Soil Science Society of America.

Among his many honors, Sparks is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Soil Science Society of America, the American Society of Agronomy, the Geochemical Society, and the European Association of Geochemistry. He is the recipient of UD’s Francis Alison and Doctoral Student Advising and Mentoring awards, the Sir Frederick McMaster Fellowship from Australia’s CSRIO and the Sterling Hendricks Medal from USDA.

Article by Beth Chajes

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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