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Don Sparks’ pioneering work recognized by the Clay Minerals Society

Don Sparks’ pioneering work recognized by the Clay Minerals SocietyDonald L. Sparks, Unidel S. Hallock du Pont Chair in Environmental Soil Chemistry at the University of Delaware and director of the Delaware Environmental Institute, has received the 2016 Pioneer in Clay Science Award from the Clay Minerals Society (CMS).

The award recognizes research contributions that have led to important new directions in clay mineral science and technology. As the honoree, Sparks was invited to present a plenary lecture at the society’s 53rd annual meeting, held June 5-8 in Atlanta.

CMS initiated the award in 1987, in part to provide younger scientists the opportunity to meet the researchers who have previously broken new scientific ground and to hear some of the inside stories on the developments and concepts that scientists now take for granted.

Past recipients have included several members of the National Academy of Sciences and a Nobel Prize winner, Linus Pauling.

“Dr. Sparks is one of the most celebrated and respected soil scientists in the world, a visionary leader in the soil science and agriculture communities, and a lifetime role model for many researchers including myself and many peers,” said Yuanzhi Tang, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Tech, in her introduction to the lecture.

Sparks’ lecture addressed the history of clay mineralogy and some of the advancements he has been involved in as well as recent technical developments in his laboratory at UD.

“It was a true honor to receive this recognition and the opportunity to address this audience from a different perspective than the usual scientific talk,” Sparks said. “It was certainly enjoyable to tell some of the stories of pioneers in the field before me, and how their discoveries inspired and helped me in my work and to pass some of that history along to a new generation of scientists.”

Sparks has led the way in using innovative techniques such as synchrotron based X-ray absorption spectroscopy, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and chemical kinetics methods to investigate reactions at the mineral-water interface.

“Dr. Sparks is a true pioneer and worthy recipient of the 2016 Pioneer in Clay Science Award,” said Balwant Singh, professor of soil science at the University of Sydney, Australia, and a member of the selection committee. “He is a brilliant scientist and a very generous human being, who is always willing to help others and to advise young researchers.  He commits a great deal of time and energy in sharing his expertise and time to improve opportunities for young researchers all over the world.”

Since joining the UD faculty in 1979, Sparks has created an internationally prominent graduate program in environmental soil chemistry in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, serving as chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences for 20 years. He has received 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.

Sparks was selected as the 2015 Geochemistry Medalist for the American Chemical Society. He currently serves as chair of the U.S. National Committee for Soil Science, which advises the U.S. National Academies on issues related to soil science, and is an honorary member of the International Union of Soil Sciences.

Other awards include Einstein Professor from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Liebig Medal from the International Union of Soil Sciences, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Sterling Hendricks medal, the Northeast Association of Graduate Schools Geoffrey Marshall Mentoring Award, the Soil Science Research Award, the M.L. and Chrystie M. Jackson Soil Science Award, and the American Society of Agronomy’s Environmental Quality Award.

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 is a past president of the Soil Science Society of America and the International Union of Soil Sciences.

Article by Beth Chajes

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