Soil is life and therefore essential to study

Posted on April 22, 2022

NAS Featured scientist: Ms Leushantha Mudaly
Lecturer: Department of Plant and Soil Sciences

Q: Why did you choose to study soil sciences?
I obtained my first degree in Chemical Sciences, majoring in Chemistry and Biochemistry, but my curiosity about applying these disciplines in the environmental field led me to soil science. 

Q: Why is soil sciences important?
If we think about our everyday existence, it is connected to the soil. From the food we eat to our general environment. Soil has many important ecosystem functions. It provides a growing medium for crops and directly influences food security.  Soil functions to filter and purify water and is vital as an engineering medium. It also provides a habitat and food source for animals. In short, soil is life, making the study of soil essential.

Q: Is soil sciences a scarce skill?
It is definitely a scarce skill.  The 2010 Environmental Sector Skills Plan for South Africa by the Department of Environmental Affairs and the 2014 Government Gazette deemed Soil Science a critical and scarce skill in South Africa.

Q: Why do we need to celebrate/observe International Mother Earth Day (22 April)?
Mother Earth is symbolic of nourishment and replenishment, and International Mother Earth Day is an important day to observe and celebrate to create awareness and remind us to be cognisant of our role in protecting our environment.  This year (2022) the theme is 'Invest In Our Planet, ' encouraging individuals, businesses and governments to invest in technologies and practices that can benefit the Earth. One of the aims is to highlight the benefit of adopting a green economy where sustainable economic development and growth can occur in tandem with the efficient and responsible use and protection of natural resources.

Q: Highlights of your career so far?
There have been many highlights so far, including receiving an award for the best paper in the Soil Science category at the National Combined Congress and publishing my first article in an international peer‐reviewed journal.  I look forward to the future highlights my career will bring as well.

Q: Please give us a glimpse of your most recent research.
My current research involves studying non-point source nutrient pollution from agriculture, specifically phosphorous and nitrogen, and its impact on water quality at the catchment scale.

Q: Describe a day in the life of Ms Mudaly.
I try to start the day planning and prioritising.  A typical day consists of my research as well as students’ research.  It also involves teaching, accompanied by lecture preparation for the courses I present.  In addition to this, I coordinate the Soil Science Honours programme.

Q: What qualities does a good scientist need?
I think characteristics of a good scientist include perseverance, being detail-oriented and having a lot of patience.  Experiments often take time and must be repeated, making these qualities especially useful. To quote Albert Einstein, “If we knew what it is we were doing, it would not be called research. Would it?”

Q: What words/beliefs do you live by?
I believe hard work is the key to success. I am also fortunate to have a passion for my job and when you enjoy what you do, it no longer feels like work.

Q: Who is your role model/mentor?
There have been many people who have shaped and moulded me into the person and scientist I am today, not least of which are my parents and husband. My colleague and master's supervisor, Mr Chris de Jager, and my PhD supervisor, Dr Michael van der Laan, have also played important roles.  In the last few years, the person who has really been instrumental to my development has been Prof Patricia Forbes.  She is an incredible person and scientist who I have immense admiration and respect for.

Q: Do you have any advice for prospective soil scientists?
Soil Science gives you the freedom to work with various scientific disciplines and requires an interdisciplinary approach.  It does not fit into one specific box so explore all opportunities until you find the aspect of Soil Science you enjoy most.

- Author Martie Meyer
Published by Martie Meyer

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