University of Delaware Environmental Soil Chemistry Members In The News
University of Delaware
College of Agricultural Sciences
Plant and Soil Sciences
PH: (302) 831-2532
FAX: (302) 831-0605
Volume 6 Issue 4
Students Get Top Billing from Soil Science Pioneer
Dr. Don Sparks has been instrumental in building the internationally recognized soil science program at the University of Delaware. In a professional career that spans less than 20 years, he ranks among the top five internationally in his area of specialization. I'm amazed that he could accomplish so much in such a short period of time.
Albert L. Page, Professor of Soil Science University of California, Riverside
I came to UD from the University of California at Davis because of Dr. Sparks' reputation. He encourages us to develop not only our scientific skills but also our professional skills. He has an "open door policy" and is always very supportive. In addition, he hosts several parties throughout the year to help bring the group together and promote interaction.
Dan Strawn, graduate student, UD Department of Plant and Soil Sciences
If you want to understand what matters most to Don Sparks in his professional life, don't look for him in his well-equipped laboratory or in his spacious corner office. Instead, head to an unassuming trailer tucked in a nook behind Townsend Hall. It is there, at least once each day, you'll find this internationally recognized researcher, Distinguished Professor of Soil Sciences and chair of the department of plant and soil sciences. Sparks makes it a point to check in often with Strawn and his other soil chemistry graduate students who make this space their base of operations.
"Working with the graduate students is the most satisfying part of my career," says Sparks. "Our primary mission here in the college is teaching. To get excellent students from leading institutions throughout the world and see them mature scientifically and professionally is a wonderful feeling."
Sparks' devotion to his students is all the more remarkable given the pace of his workdays.
"I don't want to say I'm a workaholic," says Sparks in a rare moment of repose, sipping a mug of coffee on a cold, blustery Friday morning. Describing a daily routine of research and administrative meetings, and weekends and evenings spent revising textbooks that he wrote, he amends his earlier remark: "I guess I don't call myself a workaholic because I love what I do. . . it doesn't feel like work."
Having a passion for what you do is said to be one of the best predictors of success. In Sparks' case, his love of soil science shines through in his prodigious accomplishments, including pioneering research in the kinetics of soil chemical processes; authorship or coauthorship of 145 publications, including two well-received textbooks; and extensive professional service, including service on editorial boards of major scientific journals.
He has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the University of Delaware's Francis Alison Award, the highest award a faculty member can receive from the university. He was one of the youngest recipients of the Soil Science Research Award given by the Soil Science Society of America and is a fellow of the Soil Science Society of America and the American Society of Agronomy.
Most recently, on Feb. 14, he was awarded the distinction of fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the largest federation of scientific and engineering societies in the world.
Yet Sparks isn't resting on his laurels. He eagerly talks about the new challenges and opportunities that await him and his team of graduate students.
"This is one of the most exciting times to be in the field of soil science," says Sparks. "The problems we are working on are so interdisciplinary in nature that we are able to interact with people from all different fields.
"The sophistication of what can be done now is inspiring," adds Sparks.
"We have wonderful technology available to us today to help us solve problems that are so