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  • Department of Global Development
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Soil and Crop Sciences Section
  • Global Development

Johannes Lehmann, Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science’s Soil and Crop Sciences Section, was honored along with other recent winners of the Humboldt Research Award at a reception in Berlin June 23, 2022. 

Sponsored by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the award recognizes career excellence and funds opportunities to forge innovative collaborations with colleagues in Germany. "Humboldt’s ideal of a free, globally networked world of science is one which we again need to defend today,” said German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, addressing the award recipients.

“What I like about the Humboldt experience is that you meet colleagues from all disciplines, all career stages, and especially from all around the world in a way that fosters new connections,” said Lehmann, a faculty member in Global Development, who received the award in 2020. “The prize allows me to spend time to think fundamentally about how to do better and more relevant science.”

Johannes Lehmann (left) with president of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation President Hans-Christian Pape.

The Humboldt Research Award recognizes career excellence and funds opportunities to forge innovative collaborations with colleagues in Germany.

“What I like about the Humboldt experience is that you meet colleagues from all disciplines, all career stages, and especially from all around the world in a way that fosters new connections,” said Lehmann

Credit: Humboldt Foundation/Jens Jeske

Lehmann with Humboldt Foundation President Hans-Christian Pape

Despite pandemic disruptions, the award helped fuel collaborations between Lehmann and soil ecologist Matthias Rillig at Freie Universität in Berlin. Their work includes:

  • Soil organic matter formation. Working with Rillig’s group, Lehmann has been rethinking the role of soil microorganisms in carbon sequestration, focusing on microbial turnover and how fungi die and recycle nutrients and carbon. “We need a field of inquiry to focus on the formation of necromass – the remains of microbes in all stages of decay – and really understand the pathways of organic carbon through the microbial biomass,” he argued.
     
  • Soil in space. On-going work on samples sent to the International Space Station in 2020 looked at the effects of reduced gravity on behavior and ecology of soil microorganisms and their role in soil aggregation and carbon sequestration. “This line of research will teach us lessons about both agriculture in space as well as climate change mitigation on Earth,” said Lehmann.
     
  • Science-art collaboration. Rillig and Lehmann share an interest in critically testing assumptions about artistic creativity and its relevance to scientific inquiry, and using art to help build teams of scientists and identify new research methods.  “Our fundamental inquiry into art thinking will pave the way for a deep exploration of undisciplined collaboration within and beyond the university, and expand our art-science toolbox beyond simple communication of scientific results,” Lehmann said.

Lehmann recalled he started his career in soil science more than 30 years ago working to help improve the livelihoods of small-holder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. More recently his focus has been to leverage efforts to mitigate climate change by withdrawing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in soil for improving soil health. “My motivation in all these efforts has always been to help people,” he said.

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