in memoriam - L.D. Vaidyanathan (1908-2000)
Dr. L.V. Vaidyanathan, Vaidy to those who know him, was born in southern India. Educated at the University of Madras, where he took a first class degree, he spent three years lecturing in chemistry, before joining the Indian Coffee Board as an advisor. In 1959 he came to England to take up a postgraduate studentship at Rothamsted Experimental Station: he never worked again in India.
After completing a PhD on soil phosphorus under the supervision of O. Talibudeen, he left Rothamsted for Oxford, to join P. Nye in seminal work on ion diffusion in soils. After a year working on radioisotopes in Vienna with IAEA, he returned to the UK, determined to devote himself to the problems of practical agriculture, and joined the Agricultural Advisory and Development Service (ADAS). During his time with ADAS in Cambridge, he introduced soil mineral N assessments to UK agriculture. In the 1980s he conceived a legendary multi-site wheat experiment in which just about anything which could be measured was measured, whether in the field of soil science, plant pathology, entomology, weed science or plant physiology. It was named “Marathon” by the exhausted field team, who used to keep out of Vaidy’s way in case he added yet another measurement to the list.
He was a dedicated supervisor of students and soon after arriving in Cambridge took on responsibility for guiding soil science postgraduate students, just as he had done earlier at Oxford and later in Birmingham. His students often rued their supervisor, but afterwards they appreciated the way they had been challenged and cajoled by his probing imagination.
Vaidy was the Socrates of British Soil Science, although happily no one ever made him drink hemlock. He had a rare gift for challenging one’s pet theories and a much rarer gift for leaving you grateful (and wiser) for the challenge. Like Socrates, Vaidy lived simply, sending most of his salary home to relatives in India. For the most part, his diet was bread, rice and beans, cooked in the laboratory, supplemented by any delicacies he found when diagnosing at the ADAS Plant Clinic. He took delight in debating with anyone who would listen, his views were challenging, because he had no time for pedantry or sloppy arguments, often exasperating, but always full of fun and stimulating. He never compromised his views of principles to have a quieter life. Farmers turned up in droves to his meetings, to take part in arguments that invariably extended hours after they were expected home.
He is much missed.
D.B. Davies and D.S. Jenkinson