UD scientist receives special appointment from the Institute of Soil Science in China

Donald L. Sparks, Unidel S. Hallock du Pont Chair in Soil and Environmental Chemistry at the University of Delaware and director of the Delaware Environmental Institute, has been named an honorary professor of the Institute of Soil Science in Nanjing, China.Donald L. Sparks, Unidel S. Hallock du Pont Chair in Soil and Environmental Chemistry at the University of Delaware and director of the Delaware Environmental Institute, has been named an honorary professor of the Institute of Soil Science in Nanjing, China.

A division of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Soil Science is the oldest and most prestigious institution for soil science in China. Sparks is the first soil scientist to receive the title of honorary professor in the institute’s 60-year history.

“I first visited the institute in 1987 and have since visited several times and collaborated with a number of their scientists over the years,” Sparks said. “I was extremely honored to be essentially the first foreign scientist asked to join their ranks.”

Sparks received the recognition during a recent trip to China that included stops in Beijing, Nanjing and Wuhan. He traveled with a former student, Scott Fendorf, the Huffington Family Professor in Earth Sciences at Stanford University. Fendorf received his doctorate under Sparks’ mentorship in 1992.

Sparks and Fendorf delivered guest lectures at the China Geological Survey in Beijing, Nanjing University and the Institute of Soil Science in Nanjing, and China University of Geosciences in Wuhan. Over the duration of the trip they addressed a total audience of about 600 people.

Both Sparks and Fendorf also received distinguished professorships from the provost at Nanjing University and were honored with a special luncheon with the university president during their visit there.

Sparks expects that new research collaborations will result from the trip and his special appointments. He and his Chinese colleagues will be seeking joint U.S. and Chinese funding for several projects.

“The scientists at the Institute of Soil Science and at universities and institutes in other locations in China are conducting some excellent research in the soil and environmental sciences. Thus there are some wonderful opportunities for collaboration,” Sparks said.

As a member of an international steering committee on critical zone science, Sparks has been working with Chinese scientists who are interested in establishing a network of critical zone observatory sites within China. The primary goal of his visit to the China Geological Survey was to further advance this effort. The critical zone is the thin layer of Earth’s crust and lower atmosphere where land, air and water combine to support life.

An additional highlight of the trip, according to Sparks, was a Yangtze River cruise hosted by China University of Geosciences President Yanxin Wang to view the Three Gorges Dam, the largest operating hydroelectric facility in the world in terms of annual energy generation, which was completed in 2012.

About Donald L. Sparks

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.

In 2011, Sparks was named an Einstein Professor by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Twenty Einstein professorships are awarded each year to distinguished international scientists actively working at the frontiers of science. The award enables recipients to conduct lecture tours in China aimed at strengthening scientific cooperation and exchange between China and other nations.

Sparks was the 2015 recipient of the Geochemistry Medal conferred by the American Chemical Society, He currently chairs the U.S. National Committee for Soil Science and 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 and the International Union of Soil Scientists.

Article by Beth Chajes

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