Jon Chorover (USA)
Name: Jon Chorover
Position: Professor (since 1995)
Address: University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
1. When did you decide to study soil science?
I majored in Environmental Science during college and over the summers I worked on a trail crew in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Much of my job was digging trenches for retaining walls and trail tread and I became fascinated with the structure of soils during that experience. I began studying soil science as a graduate student at University of California at Berkeley.
2. Who has been your most influential teacher?
My most influential teacher was a Mr. Smith who taught environmental science and marine biology in my high school in Boston. Growing up in the city, I knew little about the functioning of the natural world until I took his classes, which involved fieldtrips to natural areas outside of the city. He also taught a class on outdoor sports (rock climbing, kayaking, etc.) and he asked me to assist him with teaching that class, which was an honor.
3. What do you find most exciting about soil science?
As the most complex natural material on the planet, soils are a remarkable challenge to study from the perspective of chemistry. This is because they contain multiple phases (gas, liquid and solid) and multiple components within each of those phases. Understanding chemical reactions (many of which are mediated biologically) in such a milieu is quite an exciting undertaking for a chemist that has an interest in the functioning of the natural world.
4. How would you stimulate teenagers and young graduates to study soil science?
I would introduce them to the microscopic patterns in soils. Under a microscope, the beauty and complexity of soil becomes more evident than when soils are viewed with the naked eye. One can begin to see the patterns and distributions of crystals, and how they bind together with organic particles. This immediately makes apparent several things that are otherwise abstract, such as why soils can store the largest reservoir of organic carbon at the Earth’s surface.
5. How do you see the future of soil science?
Soils are increasingly recognized as a central functional component within the larger context of Earth surface science. While soil science has its roots in agricultural sustainability and will always be central to that application, it now contributes also – and to a much larger extent than in the past – to our evolving understanding of how the Earth responds to changes in climate and land use. Soil science will become increasingly associated with other spheres of Earth science (atmospheric science, geology, hydrology) as it continues to mature as a discipline.