Donald L. Sparks
The 2021 Philippe Duchaufour Medal is awarded to Donald L. Sparks for his outstanding research in the field of soil chemistry and physical chemistry, which greatly influenced the development of soil science.
Donald L. Sparks is internationally recognized as a leading scholar in agricultural and soil sciences, having contributed widely and deeply to our understanding of kinetics of soil chemical processes, surface chemistry of soils and soil components, and the physical chemistry of soil potassium.
Sparks is the founding member of the Critical Zone Observatory in the USA, and his research record illustrates both his productivity and impact. His work resulted in a research programme recognized as one of the world’s finest in soil science. Further, his textbooks have been instrumental in advancing soils science at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.
In his early work, Sparks provided groundbreaking research on processes influencing plant- available potassium in soils. Sparks’ discoveries on the formation and role of surface precipitates in the retention, fate, and transport of metals in natural systems have received worldwide attention and had major impacts in the areas of sorption models, metal speciation, and soil remediation/contamination.
Sparks has recently demonstrated the use of micro-spectroscopic approaches for characterizing metal speciation and phase identification in soils. Sparks and his group are advancing on reaction conditions long underappreciated within soils: (bio)geochemistry within the rhizosphere. His efforts have recently led to a series of publications that are rapidly becoming seminal papers on soil carbon dynamics. Moreover, his work has directly impacted agricultural practices through, for example, his work on potassium, and environmental quality through work on metal pollutants of land and water systems.
Sparks’ legacy is lived through the students and people he has helped and trained. Many of his former graduate students and postdocs have also become independent teacher-scholars in their own right. Several of the PhD candidates and postdocs he has mentored are now faculty members at universities. Other former students and postdocs have secured jobs at important national and international research facilities.
Sparks has been, and continues to be, prolific and highly impactful in his research, making seminal contributions to soil science and agriculture. He is a tireless leader within the scientific community; he profoundly impacts society and, institutionally, Sparks has been transformative.