Dani Or (Switzerland)
Name: Dani Or
Position: Professor of Soil and TerrestrialEnvironmental Physics(since 2008)
Address: ETH Zurich, Switzerland
1. When did you decide to study soil science?
As a member of a farming community in Israel (Kib-butz) I was always fascinating by how plants grow, the seasons and the annual cropping cycle. I was debating between Structural Geology and Soil and Water and decided to pursue the latter for the mix of physics and biology.
2. Who has been your most influential teacher?
I had several, but the one that stands out is Eshel-Bresler from the Volcani Center and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was a pioneer in quantitative modeling of water flow and solute transport, salinity studies and helped introduce and establish spatial statistics and stochastic hydrology. Eshel taught me how to make educated and defensible approximations and encouraged all his students to always take a quantitative approach to the study and prediction of soil processes and other natural phenomena.
3. What do you find most exciting about soil science?
It is the science that focuses on the Earth life sup-port skin – soil is the meeting place of physics, biology, chemistry and atmosphere. The understanding of the incredible biodiversity hosted in soil with billions of microorganisms in every handful of soil and the central role soil played and is playing in human history and daily experiences.
4. How would you stimulate teenagers and young graduates to study soil science?
Present the broader function of soil not only for crop production (which is important), but as the matrix of life that everyone needs to understand more about its function and role. Explain more vividly the wide arrays of soil eco-hydro-biochemical functions and the imprint of earth ecological (and anthropogenic) history found in it. For the quantitative crowd, describe and emphasize the heterogeneities, complexities, and nonlinearities they’ll be facing in exploring this vast frontier beneath that is so essential to life on earth,
5. How do you see the future of soil science?
The prominence of soil science is rapidly growing in all central issues faced by society – from interactions with climate change, to food security, to more balanced approach to ecosystem services. In all these central issues, soil plays a prominent role, one that cannot be treated by geologists or geotechnical engineers, or by ecologists alone – the proper place of soil issues is best represented by professionals trained in holistic understanding of soil function as a system with solid foundations in the chemistry, biology, and physics as well as clear understanding of interactions with water resources below and atmosphere above. I see a great future for soil scientists in the coming years when issues of resource scarcity become front page news and as the secrets of microbiological life migrate from bench top studies to real soil.