Soil scientist Rattan Lal, one of The Ohio State University’s most decorated faculty researchers, will address the university’s summer graduates. Approximately 1,500 degrees will be awarded at the summer commencement ceremony, which begins at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 4., at the Jerome Schottenstein Center.
Lal, whose career in science spans five decades and five continents, was honored most recently with the 2019 Japan Prize in recognition of his research on sustainable soil management and its role in improving global food security and mitigating climate change.
A Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), Lal was the first Ohio State scientist and the first soil scientist to ever receive the Japan Prize. The prize recognizes scientists and engineers from around the world for original and outstanding achievements that “not only contribute to the advancement of science and technology, but also promote peace and prosperity for all mankind,” the Japan Prize Foundation said when announcing the award.
Lal has donated the $445,000 cash award from the Japan Prize to an endowment supporting staffing at the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, which he founded and directs. Also a recipient of the 2018 Glinka World Soil Prize from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization ($15,000) and the 2018 GCHERA World Agriculture Prize ($100,000) from the Global Confederation of Higher Education Associations for Agricultural and Life Sciences, Lal donated the cash awards from those prizes to the carbon center as well, with a total donation of $560,000.
“I am pleased to welcome Distinguished University Professor Rattan Lal to speak at our 422nd commencement ceremony this summer,” said President Michael V. Drake. “A world-renowned scholar and Buckeye alumnus, Dr. Lal has devoted his career to addressing some of the most pressing issues of our time, from food scarcity to climate change—scholarship that will uplift and inspire our graduates as they prepare to make their own mark on our world.”
Lal is a faculty member in the CFAES School of Environment and Natural Resources, where he conducts research on topics such as soil processes, soil degradation, and sustainable management of soil and water. In 1970, he started research on no-tillage agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa—a way to grow crops from year to year without disturbing the soil by tilling—to control soil erosion, and began exploring methods to sequester, or lock up, carbon dioxide in the soil. Sequestering carbon dioxide removes it from the atmosphere, a plus in the fight against climate change. In the early 1990s, he, along with two colleagues from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wrote the first documented report that soil can defend against rising levels of carbon dioxide in the air.
Among Lal’s many other accolades and recognition: He is past president of the 60,000-member International Union of Soil Sciences (2017–2018), past president of the Soil Science Society of America (2007), and the recipient of honorary doctorates from universities across the globe. He also has been named by Thomson Reuters as one of the most influential scientific minds in the world—among the top 1% of the most highly cited agricultural researchers—for several years. Over the course of his career, he has been awarded more than $60 million in grants and produced more than 2,300 journal articles, conference presentations, books and book chapters, and invited keynote speeches.
Lal is also an Ohio State alumnus. Born in West Punjab, India (now part of Pakistan), he worked on his family’s farm while studying soils and agriculture at the Punjab Agricultural University and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute. He was encouraged by a professor to seek admission at Ohio State and pursue doctoral work, and he received his PhD in soils (agronomy) at Ohio State in 1968. He joined the Ohio State faculty in 1987 after holding research posts at the University of Sydney, Australia, and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria.
During the ceremony, the university will also present Distinguished Service Awards, recognizing individuals who have rendered exceptional service to the university, to Gifford Weary, professor emeritus and former chair of psychology and former divisional dean for Social and Behavioral Sciences, and posthumously to Richard A. Hollingsworth, who completed his 35-year Ohio State career as vice president for Student Life, retiring in 2009.