Soil Science Australia announces National Awards recipients and 3-Minute Thesis winner

Soil Science Australia encourages and recognises excellence in soil science through a variety of awards, grants and membership recognition – our National Awards. This year we also held our inaugral 3-Minute Thesis competition.

The awards recognise a range of contributions to soil science, communication and policy, from PhD theses, and early career publications, to programs of work with impact, and continued service to soil science, including volunteering for SSA.

Now’s the time to think about when the call comes out for next year. Is there a publication/video/website that you think deserves recognition? Is there a person that has contributed to advancing soil science that should be celebrated? Is that someone you? Nominate yourself!

Check out the different awards and the criteria and consider who we need to hear about. Consider mentoring someone to help them nominate or be nominated. Read our awards page for eligibility and criteria for each award. Don’t forget that most awards require 2 years of membership to qualify. Contact Justine for any information and assistance in the nomination process.

2022 National Award recipients

Publication award – Dr Han Weng

Weng et al (2022) Microspectroscopic visualization of how biochar lifts the soil organic carbon ceiling. Nature Communications 13:1-12.

The paper brings together multiple methodologies to explain the change in organic carbon decomposition rates and pathways with biochar addition. The individual techniques have been used separately before, but this paper reveals the mechanism whereby biochar can lift the potential ceiling for carbon sequestration at the microscopic level. The authors conclude microbial C-use efficiency was concomitantly increased by lowering specific enzyme activities, contributing to the decreased mineralization of native SOC by 18%. The impact of the research findings will influence soil carbon accounting worldwide. The use of well-designed diagrams makes it easier for someone new to the field to follow the research.

CG Stephens PhD Award – Christian Krohn

Dr Krohn’s thesis “Exploring the potential of microbial diversity in dissipating legacy pollutants in surface soils” was awarded from La Trobe University, Victoria

The thesis explored the topic of agricultural topsoils contaminated with chlorinated persistent organic pollutants (POP), using dieldrin as the example contaminant. The thesis was well written and addressed an important topic that is relevant to many soils around the world. The combination of field and laboratory experiments used to explore the relationships of microbial diversity and soil properties (particularly organic matter composition) with the degradation of POPs, were interesting and of good quality. The results challenge current perspectives on the role of organic matter amendments in POP contaminated soil, and these findings can be incorporated into future remediation programs where a natural attenuation strategy is adopted.

JA Prescott Medal – Professor Richard Bell

Centre for Sustainable Farming Systems, Food Futures Institute, Murdoch University, WA

Professor Richard Bell has made an outstanding contribution in soil science, as evidence by his exceptional track record in innovative research and teaching in soil science. Through this research, teaching and outreach, he has made a sustainable difference for rural agriculture within Australia and internationally. His work has helped to improve the sustainability, productivity and profitability of farming in Australia, while his work in less well-developed countries has contributed to lifting communities from poverty. He has won several university awards, as voted by his peers, in recognition of his excellent energetic contribution to researching and teaching soil, environmental, land management and agriculture science. He has built and led teams to work on a wide range of topics including boron and other micronutrients, macronutrients (especially potassium, phosphorus and sulphur), conservation farming, salinity, land suitability assessment and measurement, aluminium tolerance, and amendment of sandy soil using clay, organic sources and cultivation.

LJH Teakle Award – Chris Gazey

Soil Science and Crop Nutrition, WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD)

Chris is a strong advocate for addressing soil acidity with the rural communities of Western Australia. Chris developed and led key extension programs such as ‘Time to Lime’ and co-developed bioeconomic modelling supporting optimal liming strategies. Chris also initiated the State Lime Strategy, and promoted the importance of sampling subsurface soil layers for soil acidity, rather than just a focus on the top 10cm. Chris took on the portfolio management of the GRDC funded grains agronomy and soil constraints project team for the WA government. This also includes volunteering his time at the Perth Royal Show (in the WA Dirt Pavillion) extending soil engagement activities and soil information to adults and children of all ages. Chris, a co-director of SoilsWest, has contributed to and overseen the development of nine chapters of an innovative digital media ebook series, addressing Soil Quality.

JK Taylor Gold Medal – Dr Allan Hewitt1 (dec), Dr Megan Balks2 & Professor

David Lowe2

1Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, Lincoln
2University of Waikato, Hamilton

The book ‘The Soils of Aotearoa New Zealand’ is a comprehensive overview of New Zealand’s soils in terms of the New Zealand Soil Classification System.  It is 332 pages long, 18 chapters, 192 illustrations and numerous tables. This book is a resource that will be invaluable for all who want to know more about New Zealand soils. It is incredibly well written and easy to read. There is a lack of jargon, and the book is very accessible to farmers, students, extension workers, and the public. Having only three individual authors, it has a consistent writing style through the entire text, good editing for the length of text for each sub-topic and thoughtfully chosen diagrams and photos, including hand-artwork by Allan Hewitt (deceased 2022). All three authors were nominated, and each made substantial contributions to the book.

Fellowship – Prof Brajesh Singh

Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University, NSW

Prof Brajesh Singh was selected for his contributions to soil biology and global microbial distribution. He has published over 240 research papers in leading international journals, including a global atlas of microbial distributions, with Google-Scholar citations at 25,000 and a H-index of 81. Professor Singh has led/co-led funding totalling ~A$52.5M in the last 18 years including ~$37.5M secured since his appointment at WSU in 2010. He has worked successfully with industry and sits on a number of international committees, including for the FAO, CBD and IPBE. He has made a significant contribution to industrial and policy applications from translation of his research, which has directly contributed to national and international policies. Professor Singh has extensive duties for eight journals, including serving as Editor-in-Chief for the Journal of Sustainable Agriculture and Environment since 2021. His activities extend to industry and farming communities via an annual masterclass on soil biology, which has trained ~350 participants over 10 years.

Honorary Life Membership – Dr Pichu “Renga” Rengasamy

(visiting fellow) School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, WT, University of Adelaide

Renga has held a number of committee positions in the Vic Branch of SSA, including Treasurer, Vice President and President, and continues to contribute to the society in his retirement through the activities of the SA branch, mentoring and supervision of students. He is a previous recipient of a Certificate of Supervisory Excellence” by the Department of Soil Science in the Waite Institute, former Prescott medal award winner, a current SSA Fellow and has written a number of seminal papers on dispersive soils and sodicity. Dr Rengasamy is internationally renown for his soil science research and impact in the area of sodic and saline soils and is a former Editor-in Chief for the journal “Soil and Tillage Research”.  He led the program on soil sodicity in the CRC for Soil Management for five years and in 2011, he introduced the concept of “Cation Ratio of Soil Structural stability (CROSS)” based on dispersive potential and flocculation efficiency of different cations to replace the commonly used Sodium Adsorption Ratio (SAR). Dr Rengasamy has supervised 12 Ph.D., 1 M.Sc and 1 Post-doctoral fellow in the field of Soil Science.

Thank you to Justine Cox, Federal Secretary for her work coordinating the awards.

3-minute Thesis winner and finalists

Congratulations to the winner of our inaugural Soil Science Australia 3-Minute Thesis Competition:

Rachael Davis from Latrobe University!  

The additional branch finalists were:

  • Tom Zhao – NSW
  • Meghan Barnard – Qld
  • Kate Matthews – SA

Thank you to everyone that took time to be a part of this competition!