University of Delaware Environmental Soil Chemistry Members In The News


Cooperative Extension

University of Delaware

College of Agricultural Sciences



Plant and Soil Sciences
152 Townsend Hall
Newark, DE 19717

PH: (302) 831-2532

FAX: (302) 831-0605


October/November 1996

Volume 5 Issue 2

Sparks Receives University's Francis Alison Award



Dr. Donald L. Sparks

A funny thing happened on the way to veterinary school. Donald Sparks took an undergraduate course in soil science at the University of Kentucky and discovered his future career.

"It was everything I was interested in--the application of chemistry, physics and microbiology to a vital substance in our environment, and I changed my major," he says.

The decision obviously was the right one for Sparks, who is Distinguished Professor of Soil Science, chairs the department of plant and soil sciences and has a joint appointment with the department of civil and environmental engineering at UD.

In recognition of his scholarship, professional achievements and dedication, he is joining the select group of university faculty who have received the prestigious Francis Alison Award that consists of a medal designed by UD art professor Anne Graham and a $6,000 honorarium.

Sparks earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Kentucky and his doctorate from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He joined the UD faculty in 1979. Since then he has seen the plant science department evolve into plant and soil sciences and the number of soil science faculty increase from one in the 1970s to seven today. He has been instrumental in building the soil science program to the level of national recognition.

"Soil science has become increasingly important as environmental issues have emerged," Sparks says. "There is concern about the effects of pesticides, metals and organic chemicals on water and soil quality. Research in the field has become a multidisciplinary effort, involving not only soil science, but civil and environmental engineering, chemistry and marine studies."

Sparks credits UD for providing a supportive environment for teaching and research.

"The emphasis on undergraduate teaching is refreshing, and the opportunities and support for research with modern, up-to-date equipment are exemplary. Because of this, the university attracts excellent undergraduate and graduate students," he says.

One of the youngest recipients of the Soil Science Research Award in 1994, Sparks also has received the UD Sigma Xi Distinguished Scientist Award, a citation from the International Potash Institute for his work on soil potassium, the American Society of Agronomy's Visiting Scientist Award, the Research Award from the Northeastern Branch of the American Society of Agronomy, the F. D. Chester Distinguished Performance Award from the College of Agricultural Sciences and the M.L. and Chrystie M. Jackson Soil Science Award from the Soil Science Society of America.

In addition, he is a fellow of the American Society of Agronomy and the Soil Science Society of America, the highest honor given by both societies, and he has served as chairperson of the soil chemistry division of the latter organization. He is also vice chairperson of the Soil Chemistry Commission of the International Society of Soil Science.

Sparks' research, which has attracted more than $2.5 million in grants and contracts, focuses on the kinetics of soil chemistry processes with particular emphasis on metal and organic chemical interaction at the soil, mineral and water interface. He and his researchers employ state-of-the-art surface spectroscopic and microscopic techniques to confirm reaction mechanisms. He is particularly interested in the rate at which organic chemicals and heavy metals react with soils and how to remediate contaminated soil.

Sparks is author or coauthor of more than 133 publications, including 20 edited books, 28 book chapters and 85 refereed papers, plus numerous abstracts and articles. He has written two textbooks, "Kinetics of Soil Chemical Processes" and "Environmental Soil Chemistry." He has made numerous presentations of his research findings and been an invitational speaker at 31 universities and institutes in the United States, Canada, Asia and Europe. He is the editor of "Geoderma" and "Advances in Agronomy" and serves on the editorial boards of Soil Science, Trends in Soil Science and Advances in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

Teaching and mentoring undergraduates and graduates is a high priority for Sparks. He has served as advisor to 38 graduate students and postdoctoral associates from around the globe. His graduate students have received a number of national honors and awards, including five national fellowships and three dissertation prizes. Sparks' current research group consists of 12 graduate students and postdoctoral associates.

Sparks offers a seminar on professional development to graduate students that features outside speakers on topics such as manuscript writing, applying for grants, communication, job interviews and other skills that will assist them in their careers.


From the Dean's Desk

A Time to Honor, a Time to Take Pride

In 1743, Francis Alison, a dedicated educator recognized for his insight, established a small learning academy near Newark, Del. That academy evolved into the University of Delaware. Each year, in honor of UD's founder, the university names an Alison Professor, to pay tribute to the academic excellence of a current faculty member. It is the highest honor the university can give. This year's winner is Dr. Donald L. Sparks, distinguished professor of soil science and chair of the department of plant and soil sciences.

The Alison Award is presented at freshman convocation, where all new students are welcomed to UD the day before classes begin. This program is a tradition designed to encourage students to strive for excellence and to take advantage of the university's many outstanding programs. This year's convocation program was especially meaningful to students enrolled in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

We are very proud of Dr. Sparks and the other outstanding faculty committed to academic excellene. .Two year's ago, Dr. John K. Rosenberger, chair of the department of animal and food sciences, received the Alison Award. In the past six years, other professors have been honored. Drs. Roland Roth, department of entomology and applied ecology, and James Glancey, department of agricultural engineering, received university-wide awards for outstanding advisement. Dr. Carl Toensmeyer, department of food and resource economics; Dr. Ken Lomax, department of agricultural engineering; and Prof. Gary Smith, department of plant and soil sciences, received university-wide teaching awards.

University awards like these recognize the efforts of faculty in the College of Agricultural Sciences who have been especially productive, effective and helpful to their students. I want to take this forum to acknowledge their work and to let supporters of our college know about their accomplishments.

John C. Nye
Dean and Director
College of Agricultural Sciences

Pautler Named Research Associate II


Maria Pautler has been hired by the College of Agricultural Sciences as a research associate II. As a member of the Environmental Soil Research Management Group, Pautler's responsibilities include assisting Dr. Tom Sims--professor of soil fertility and chemistry--managing a laboratory and conducting her own research.

Pautler is a UD alum. She received an undergraduate degree with distinction in soil science 1985 and her master's degree in soil science in 1988. For the last nine years Pautler worked at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in the environmental technology group.

The Newark resident says she is excited about the challenges and opportunities of her new position.

"In my former job I was doing military-specific work," she says. "Here, I am able to do research that is much broader in nature and has a range of possible applications. I hope to make a real contribution to the environmental soil research management group."


Home | Members | News | Links | Research | Meetings | Awards | Alumni | Publications | Search