PSM and the International Year of the Soils

The Department of Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences (PSM) has numerous soil scientists who conduct cutting edge soil science research ranging from the micro to the global level, addressing issues of soil biology, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, soil physics, soil  management, soil productivity, soil structure, soil as a mechanism of environmental cleanup and much more. Read more about this important work in PSM.

Content Index:

  1. Faculty Members
  2. Teacher Resources
  3. Interesting Soil Related Links

Plant Soil Microbial Science Faculty Members and the research they are doing towards the goals set out in the International Year of the Soils.  

Dr. Lisa Tiemann’s Research on Soil BiologyDr. Lisa Tiemann in Lab Smock with Pipetter in hand.

 The Soil Biology Laboratory in the Department of Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences at Michigan State University works globally to promote our understanding of soil microorganisms’ contributions to soil organic matter and healthy, fertile soils. Dr. Tiemann’s research is conducted in a variety of agroecosystems across the U.S. and in Africa as she explores aspects of climate and land use change that alter microbial community dynamics with consequences for soil fertility and soil health. The ultimate goal of her research is to determine how we can manage agroecosystems to sustain the critical ecosystem services soil organic matter provides, thereby promoting soil sustainability and food security. Dr. Tiemann’s  work will help us realize the International Year of Soils slogan of “healthy soils for a healthy life.”

Ugandan agricultural Lanscape

 Diverse Ugandan agricultural landscape remains productive

due to high fertility volcanic origin soils, however declines in

soil organic matter have begun to reduce yields.   

Ugandan Maize crop residues

In Uganda maize crop residues after harvest are
collected and removed from many fields
accelerating soil organic matter losses and
soil fertility declines.

Tractor in Ugandan Field

A rare tractor in a large field near Kasese, Uganda.

Most field preparation and harvesting is done by hand.

 Children sitting in a field eating fresh beans

Future Ugandan farmers enjoying a snack of fresh beans.

Ugandan village people listening to Dr. Tieman Speak.

Ugandan farmers and their children are very anxious to
learn how they can stop declines in soil fertility and crop
yields. Here the whole village turns out to hear Dr. Tiemann
speak about maintaining soil organic matter and increasing
nitrogen availability for crops.  

Dr. Wei Zhang’s Research on Emerging Contaminants in the Soil and Water Environment

Wei Zhang


Dr. Zhang’s laboratory researches the movement of emerging contaminants in the soil and water environment including veterinary antibiotics, engineered nanoparticles, and emerging microbial pathogens. He is focusing on fundamental contaminant transport processes. Three of his current research foci are listed below:

1. Use of biochar as a soil amendment to reduce the adverse impact of environmental contaminants.

Biochar is a carbon-rich porous materials that can be made from manure, crop residue, and other biomass. Dr. Zhang is studying how to use biochar to sequester antibiotics and thus reduce the transport and bioavailability of antibiotics. This research is related to the International year of soils in term of maintaining the soil’s function for cleansing water.

Three types of Biochar









Photo 1:     Three type of biochars.



Photo 2:     Scanning electron microscope image of the porous structure of biochar


Photo 3:     Ph.D. student Cheng-Hua Liu conducting experiments on lincomycin sorption by biochar.


2.  Novel study on filtration of greenhouse irrigation water for removal of plant pathogens

Plant pathogen outbreak in greenhouses can cause enormous crop losses. The spread of pathogens is exacerbated by recycling irrigation water that is increasingly practiced by greenhouse growers. Working with plant pathologist Dr. Mary Hausbeck, Dr. Zhang’s lab is studying how to remove plant pathogens by filtration so as to avoid the fungicide resistance development commonly experienced by fungicide application.


Photo 4:       Scanning electron microscope image of partially encysted Phytophthora capsici zoospore.


Photo 5:       Scanning electron microscope image of completely encysted Phytophthora capsici zoospore


Photo 6:       Poinsettia plants growing in greenhouse


Photo 7:       Squash plants growing in greenhouse.


Photo 8:       Ph.D. student Sangho Jeon in the greenhouse


3.  Cutting-edge research on engineered nanoparticles


Photo 9:       Engineered magnetite nanoparticles to remove arsenic from water - Transmission electron microscope image


Photo 10:     Atomic force microscope images of fullerene C60 pyrrolidine tris-acid.  We studied its movement in sediments.












Photo 11:     Nano-sized iron oxide grown on sand surface to remove contaminants from water.

Dr. Alvin Smucker’s research into suburface water retention technologies SWRT and root image processing.  

Image of Dr. Alvin Smucker in Dark Blue Suite and White Dress Shirt with Tie

The Soil Biophysics lab is researching and developing subsurface water retention technologies  (SWRT) that will allow cultivation of crops in semi arid and arid regions and will reduce quantities of supplemental irrigation required, protect potable groundwater supplies, and enable more efficient use and control of fertilizers and pesticides. 

In a recent interview, Smucker indicated,  “This technology has the potential to change lives and regional landscapes domestically and internationally where highly permeable, sandy soils have prohibited the sustainable production of food,”

Undoubtedly, this technology will be one more weapon in the arsenal against the future impact of global climate change.

Click here to learn more about SWRT and Dr. Smucker.

Soil Biophysics Lab Website

Also of note Dr. Smucker oversaw the development of the MR and WR  —RIPL (Root Image Processing Laboratory) software.   The purpose of the RIPL software is to quantify 16 morphological parameters that are indicators of plant health, growth and death rates. 



Other Soil Scientists in the Department of Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences


National and International Soil Science Societies and/or Organizations



Teacher Resources for Soil Science



Youtube videos and other information from Soil Science Societies and the USDA NRCS: