Soil Science Research Interests

Quality rating and research tradition

In the latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) research in the Department was once again found to be excellent. Much of our research was deemed to be "internationally leading" and some "world leading". These results, together with the announcement that Reading is 8th in the world in terms of the impact of its agricultural research globally is indicative of the fact that Soil Science research at Reading is thriving.

The Department currently recieves substantial funding from the Research Councils, charities and other awarding bodies and focuses its research under three broad inter-related themes outlined below.

Distinctive features of the Department

The Soil Research Centre was established in 2010 as the focus for soil related research activities at the University. Soil research at the University in Reading can trace its origins from the teaching of soil science to agriculture students in the late 1800s through the formation of a discrete Department of Soil Science in 1964 and on to the present day.

Currently collaborative research links include University of Glasgow, The Natural History Museum, Copenhagen University, Royal Horticultural Society, Thames Water, Syngenta, Renewable Energy Association, CL:AIRE, Jordan's national Centre for Agricultural Research and Technology Transfer, Joint nature Conservation Committee, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Forest Research, Rothamsted Research, RIVM - The Netherlands, TNO - The Netherlands, Department of Primary Industry, Victoria, Australia.

Facilities and study environment

The Department has extensive, well equipped laboratories for both teaching and research into the broad areas of Soil Science. Facilities include: fully equipped wet chemistry laboratories for major and trace element and organic analysis (ICP-OES, ICP-MS, FAAS, GFAAS, ion chromatography, C and S analysers, uv-vis spectrophotometers, TOC analyser, GW, GC-MS, IR -spectrophotometer); stable isotope laboratory (several mass spectrometers for 15N and 13C analysis); microbiology laboratory (containment rooms, incubation rooms, growth cabinets, incubators, autoclaves, PCR, DGGE); microscopy and photography (dark room, Vickers Patholuxe and M41 research microscopes with phase-contrast and darkground illumination, CCTV camera microscopes, digital cameras); fully equipped workshop for manufacture of bespoke laboratory and field apparatus; mineralogical analysis facilities (particle size analysis, DTA/DGA, gas adsorption surface area analysis, XRF, XRD); two analytical scanning electron microscopes, soil physical and micrometeorological instrumentation.

Funding opportunities

Our research degrees are funded by BBSRC, NERC, University of Reading (in collaboration with industrial partners), industry, and the EC. Applicants should note their interest in these studentships, as occasionally advertised on our web pages, on their application.

The MSc Soils and Environmental Pollution has been nationally recognised as an important degree and was awarded five-studentships per year by the NERC

See Funding support pages for more details.

Research interests

Research within the department investigates the role of soil in environmental sustainability. The work is carried out at a range of scales from molecular studies to global impact studies. Field research, laboratory experiments and modelling techniques are used to develop a thorough understanding of soil within the earth system.

More specifically research is carried out in the following three areas:

Soil evaluation and monitoring

Soil is a fundamental and irreplaceable natural resource playing a role in food production, climate regulation and maintenance of biodiversity; it is the esential link between the geosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere. Soil evaluation and monitoring are concerned with assessing the state of soil - how do soil properties vary both spatially and temporally, and do these properties provide benefits or pose threats? We pursue research in the fields of precision agriculture, soil monitoring, contaminated land, remotely sensed data and aspects of soil and health.

In order to quantify the spatial variation of soil and ancillary environmental data a range of mathematical and statistical methods are applied that include geostatistics and multivariate analysis. Bioavailability and toxicity of chemicals in soils are assessed through bioassays using earthworms, microbes and plants as well as chemical methods. We concentrate on determining controls on bioavailability and toxicity. Furthermore physical properties of the soil and key state variables such as moisture content, are measured.

Soil Biogeochemistry

We characterise and quantify the various chemical, biological and physical processes that determine the behaviour of chemicals in the soil be they liquid or gas, nutrient or pollutant. CO2 and water vapour play a key role in foverning the Earth's climate and we are involved in modelling and measuring transfer of these between soil, vegetations and the atmosphere. A number of projects focus on specific processes involved in the availability and movement of contaminants in soil and/or water (including metals, plant nutrients such as phosphorus, organic contaminants such as hydrocarbons and xenobiotics such as veterinary medicines and disinfection products). This work involves detailed studeis of the interactions between pollutants and soil components. The impacts of organisms including microbes, earthworms and plants on contaminant uptake and degradation are also determined. Work also focuses on soil forming processes such as mineral weathering and the development of peat upland soils. The relevant processes are studied over a wide range of spatial scales (microbial-scale to catchment-scale).

Soil Technology

How can we preserve, repair and improve soil? Our research in the field of soil technology addresses these issues. Soil organic matter (SOM) is a major determinant of soil fertility, water retention and biological activity. It also helps to prevent soil erosion and locks up C that could otherwise be released as CO2, , contributing to global warming. One way of maintaining and increasing SOM in soils is through the addition of compost. Our research investigates the use of different waste streams as possible sources of compost.

If soils are contaminated they may be remediated so as to return them to beneficial use. We aer researching a variety of methods for remediating both inorganic and organic contaminants in soils. These methods include addition of mineral amendments such as cements, ochres and phosphates to immobilise contaminants whilst maintaining soil functionality. If soils can not be remediated it is sometimes necessary to replace them. For this reason we carry out research into the production of synthetic soild using waste organic and inorganic material.

For details of the research being carried out in the department please see our website at or contact Mrs Sue Howthorne



Research Degrees

Supervision for research degrees (PhD/MPhil) is available in all the main areas of research within the Department. Current research is listed under the department web page as well as a selection of potential PhD research topics

The university has a formal code of practice for research students, which ensures that adequate supervision and appropriate training are provided. As the degree is tailored to suit the needs of the student, it is possible to carry out a degree as a split programme spending part of the time in Reading and the rest at your home institute.

Student progress is assessed in line with the University Code.

Page navigation

Things to do now

More Information:
Visit the Soil Research Centre's website


Dr Joanna Clark





Search Form

A-Z lists

Main navigation