in memoriam - A. Duncan Scott (1921-2005)

A. Duncan Scott, 84, of Batavia, Illinois and Professor Emeritus at Iowa State University died Saturday, November 12, 2005. A private family service was held on November 17. He was a professor in the Agronomy Department from 1950, and in retirement moved to Illinois in 2002. Scott grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, and began his education in a one-room country school. Graduating from high school when he was sixteen, he had to wait a year to continue his education at the University of Saskatchewan because he had to be a year older to enroll. He devoted this year to traveling and studying music before starting university study.

Encouraged to develop a broad perspective on soils, including the relevance of chemistry and physics, by John Mitchell, head of Soil Science, Scott also was encouraged to gain experience with soils as they exist in the field. The latter was by working with the Saskatchewan Soil Survey in the summer of 1942, and the BSA degree in soils at Saskatchewan earned in 1943. His ongoing attention to soils was interrupted by service as a Second Lieutenant in the Canadian Army. After military service, he returned to the University of Saskatchewan to take graduate courses. During that year, interactions with faculty members led Scott to pursue a doctoral program emphasizing the chemical aspects of soils, but only after working with the Saskatchewan Soil Survey again in the summer of 1945. Of his soils career he said: That interest ‘has been my life.’

In his words, Scott moved ‘about as far away’ from Saskatchewan as he could in 1945, to begin graduate work at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. There he was a graduate assistant with Dr. Michael Peech, whose research program matched his interests in soil chemistry and clay mineralogy. Scott married Elizabeth Camper in 1946 and graduated with a doctorate in Soil Chemistry in 1949. He found several university positions in Soil Science available so he could choose among them.

The Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University, under the leadership of W. H. Pierre was nationally and internationally recognized as having one of the best programs. In addition, study of soil chemistry was being moved from the Chemistry Department to Agronomy and a newly created position in soil research and teaching became open. He joined the faculty at Iowa State University and organized a new Soil Chemistry program in the Agronomy Department. When he retired in 1990, a national interest in this position was still evident.

Rising through the academic ranks to professor by 1959, Professor Scott’s career at Iowa State spanned 41 years. He developed and taught a graduate course in advanced soil chemistry and participated in graduate soil seminars. He pursued a research program involving the availability of potassium and ammonium in soils and minerals to plants, the structural and surface chemistry of layer silicates in soils, and the development and application of electrochemical methods of determining soil potassium. Scott was a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy and the Soil Science Society of America, and served as associate editor for the Soil Science Society of America Proceedings and for Clay and Clay Minerals. He has also been Chairman of the Soil Science Society of America Division 9 and Vice-Chairman of Commission VII of the International Society of Soil Science.

Dr. Scott’s expertise was frequently sought by international agencies. He worked as a Technical Expert in Soil Chemistry for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN) in Pakistan in 1961-62, where he organized and supervised analytical laboratories and soil chemistry research for the UN Special Fund Project. This was an ‘enlightening’ year for him that he considered one of the highlights of his career. Scott also spent a year in Adelaide, Australia as a Visiting Scientist with Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Division of Soils in 1968-69. There he worked with Keith Norrish on the exchangeability of layer silicates. He was an invited speaker for the International Society of Soil Science in 1968 and the South Australia Soil Science Conference in 1969. Scott was an invited lecturer and participant with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Advanced Study Institute in Urbana, Illinois in 1979 and again in Bad Windsheim, West Germany in 1985. He traveled to laboratories around the world, including Louvain, Versailles, Rothamsted, and Aberdeen, to establish common research programs. Scott believed his department’s reputation and stature were a result of coordination and interaction with other national and international laboratories. He encouraged faculty members now to continue those contacts.

Though Professor Scott was offered administrative positions at other universities, he was never very tempted to accept them because of dedication to his research and to his years of service at Iowa State. When he described the most memorable moments of his career, he liked to speak about the close relationships he had with his students and the progress and successes they have achieved with joint research ventures. These results are described in 62 authored or co-authored publications and more can be found in unpublished grant reports, abstracts, etc.

Scott found the most satisfaction in an area of research that dated back to his graduate work at Cornell on the development and use of ion-selective electrodes. He continued this at Iowa State and devoted some research time to this area until he retired. Some of his graduate students are still working on this subject. He spent most of his time studying potassium from the moment he came to Iowa State. Scott worked to get the necessary funding and provide needed organization for a research program to study potassium chemistry. As part of this research program, Scott used solutions of sodium tetraphenylboron, a compound that did not appear in chemistry literature as a potassium precipitant until 1953. He hopes that some of the research he has done will ‘stand up and be useful.’ Applied soil fertility specialists are exploring use of solutions of this compound as a soil extractant to determine available potassium in order to make fertilizer recommendations.

Not only participating in planning and executing a potassium research program, Scott also was deeply involved in planning and construction of the original Agronomy Building as well as an even larger addition later. From his 1950 arrival in the department until his retirement in 1990, he served as chairman of the Agronomy Building Committee. As the original Agronomy Building was constructed, Scott says he could expect a visit from either Dean Floyd Andre or W.H. Pierre, both upstairs in Curtiss Hall, every day of the week. He devoted much time to improving the laboratory plans for the building. As the major addition to the building was planned and constructed, he played critical roles working with architects and contractors. He was particularly diligent in working with the physical plant architects to build a constant temperature and humidity room to meet his requirements. At one point, he asked the architects to gut the room and rebuild it despite their protests that ‘there were no rooms like this anywhere in the United States.’ The constant temperature and humidity room is now up and working thanks mainly to Scott’s perseverance!

Duncan Scott is survived by his wife Elizabeth; three children and four grandchildren. In Memoriam contributions can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association.

A. Duncan Scott (1921-2005)

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Page created: 13.02.2015 | Page updated: 15.02.2015

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