University of Calgary

Critical role of soil opens science students’ eyes

UToday HomeApril 9, 2013

By Marie-Helene Thibeault

Eight senior environmental science students will present research on the role of soilsEight senior environmental science students will present research on the role of soils at an upcoming open house set for April 18 at the University of Calgary. Photo courtesy Edward FieldingWhen Luke Wonneck enrolled in the ENSC 502 course, he had no clue it would change his perception of soil in such a profound way.

“Most of us just think of soil as dirt,” admits Wonneck. “We walk on it and kind of downgrade it — not realizing the significant role it plays in our very existence and subsistence,” added the fourth-year student.

Wonneck is one of eight senior environmental science students who will present research on the critical role of soils at an upcoming open house set for Thursday April 18 at the University of Calgary.

“My project looked at widespread soil degradation due to industrial agricultural practices and how we can restore a healthy soil ecosystem using vermicompost tea,” explains Wonneck.

At the event, students will showcase the conclusions from eight months of research on topics such as the soil-mediated uptake of pharmaceuticals in food, the effects of post-fire debris load on soil nutrients, the assessment of hydrocarbons in the vicinity of oilsands upgrading facilities, the deposition of pollutants near refineries, and the implication of fertilizer and pesticide use.

Students will also offer recommendations for improving the management, usage and remediation of soils in various contexts.

Amy Spark, who also enrolled in the course and looks forward to presenting her findings, explores how compounds disruptive to hormone regulation in humans that are present in Calgary's wastewater could potentially be transferred to agricultural fields through fertilization with sewage sludge.

“This course really opened my eyes to the effect and importance of soil on our everyday lives,” says Spark, who hopes to pursue a Master program in Environmental Education and Communications after she graduates and gains some work experience.

Jürgen Gailer, an associate professor in both the Environmental Science Program and the Department of Chemistry, spearheaded the course with Ann-Lise Norman, associate professor from the Department of Physics.

Gailer believes in-depth projects like these offer important investigative experience for students, with results that can inform and inspire the broader community.

“These are very topical areas of research,” he notes. “The projects were chosen by the students themselves and conducted over the entire academic year. It’s a chance to show Calgarians what they’ve learned.”

For more information concerning this upcoming event, visit:


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