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Claire Chenu

The 2019 Philippe Duchaufour Medal is awarded to Claire Chenu for outstanding research in the field of soil science, with special emphasis on pioneering conceptual work on the microbial-mineral interactions and organic matter dynamics in soil.

Claire Chenu is internationally recognised for her great contributions to soil science and greatest impact in terms of understanding the biogeochemistry of soil organic matter, including the biology, effects on soil structure, modelling, and persistence in soil. Her achievements help to understand how microbes and their extracellular polymers create the microenvironments that support soil life and, in turn, how microbial functions, diversity, biogeography are governed by the landscapes. Due to that, she greatly contributed to our understanding of soil structure and its implications for the soil as a microbial habitat, in turn affecting major element cycles in soils.

She has provided intellectual leadership in the development of soil bio-physics as an interdisciplinary research field. Chenu’s achievements help bridge the gap between soil physics and microbially controlled processes. Additionally, she is well known from her contributions to the development of staining procedures for the application of electron microscopy to the investigation of the role of organic matter in the formation of soil aggregates, as well as for conceptual approaches to the understanding of physical protection of soil organic C and for contributions to the elucidation of factors that act as determinants of soil carbon storage.

Chenu is a fearless and eloquent champion of soil who has articulated the importance of soil to our planet and humanity. She is recognised globally for her vision and ability to implement new ideas. Among the many roles she’s played, she contributes to awareness raising activities on soil and has been nominated Special Ambassador of the UN International Year of Soils in 2015 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. At the international level, she is a member of several committees, such as the steering committee of the Swiss National Science Foundation Research Program on soils, the scientific committee of the German Biodiversity observatories, and the scientific advisory board of the Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change.