UD's Donald L. Sparks on a boat tour of Guilin, China.

An honored professor

Sparks travels 16 days, 18,621 miles to promote scientific collaboration

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8:32 a.m., Nov. 1, 2011--Donald L. Sparks, the S. Hallock du Pont Chair of Soil and Environmental Chemistry and director of the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN) at the University of Delaware, spent 16 days traveling and lecturing in China last month. 

The trip was sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), which awarded Sparks a 2011 Einstein Professorship that is presented to 20 distinguished scientists from around the world each year. The program seeks to strengthen science and technology links between CAS scientists and Einstein Professorship recipients, with an overarching goal of enhancing training for future generations of scientists in China.

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“There are exciting opportunities to form collaborations, and there are so many young Chinese scientists excited about what the future in scientific research holds in solving global environmental challenges,” Sparks said. “The trip was highly exciting and enjoyable — a lifetime experience that I will always remember.” 

Sparks traveled to Beijing, Nanjing, Shenyang, Xiamen and Guilin and delivered six lectures at three CAS institutes. More than 1,200 faculty members and students attended the lectures. Additionally, Sparks was honored at banquets, toured local caves, ventured on boat tours and soaked in the sights and culture.

Sparks was nominated for the Einstein Professorship by Dongmei Zhou, his host professor from the Institute of Soil Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences (ISSAS), and Renfang Shen, the director of ISSAS. 

“Dr. Sparks is one of the great scientists in environmental soil science,” Zhou said. 

While on his lecture tour, Sparks was also awarded an honorary professorship at the Institute for Urban Environment in Xiamen by its director, Yongguan Zhu. According to Sparks, he knew he would be receiving the Einstein Professorship, but the second award was a surprise.

“Don is a world leader in soil chemistry and molecular environmental science,” Zhu said. “We believe that his career development can inspire young Chinese scientists.” 

Throughout the trip, Sparks had the opportunity to learn more about China’s research efforts, particularly regarding environmental challenges the country faces. 

“I was impressed to find that the Chinese government and scientists are taking a very proactive stance to address problems with environmental quality. The government is providing large amounts of funding to support first-rate research and to hire the very best scientists,” Sparks said.

“Donald Sparks' visit to my institute was a very successful one, and I believe this will have a tremendous impact on our future collaborations,” Shen said.  

Sparks ended his trip by signing a scientific collaboration agreement, which states that DENIN and ISSAS will forge collaborations and actively seek funding to support soil and environmental science research. 

“We hope that through this visit, we can consolidate our collaborative link,” Zhu said. “We want to send young staff to Don's lab and develop joint projects to address global issues, such as climate change and food security.”

Sparks plans on making a fifth trip to China in the future. He also hopes to send American students to China.

“I think Donald’s two-week, successful lecture trip in China is a good beginning for our collaboration,” Zhou said.  “We will have a bright future.”

Article by Brittany Barkes 

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