The University of Delaware's Donald L. Sparks has been elected an honorary member of the International Union of Soil Sciences, the society's highest recognition.

Honorary membership

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

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2:30 p.m., June 29, 2012--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.

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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

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