Subsurface Biosphere Education and Research

Lewis Semprini, Professor, Dept. of Civil, Const., and Environ. Engineering; Martin Fisk, Professor, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Daniel Arp, Professor and Chair, Dept. Botany and Plant Pathology, Peter Bottomley, Professor, Dept. Microbiology; David Myrold, Professor, Dept. Crop and Soil Science

Recent discoveries indicate that vast numbers of microorganisms live below the Earth's surface in soil, mud, and rock, and some scientists now believe that the total weight of these microbes is as much as all life (plant and animal) in our well-known surface biosphere. Life below the Earth's surface (Subsurface Biosphere) has important consequences to ecology, to deposits of oil, gas, and minerals, to water resources, to agriculture, and to medicine.

Focal Areas related to the Subsurface Biosphere, Strategic Plan Themes, Research Areas, and Examples of Existing Centers and Programs.
Diagram 1. Focal Areas related to the Subsurface Biosphere, Strategic Plan Themes, Research Areas, and Examples of Existing Centers and Programs.

Diagram 1 shows the Center of Excellence for Subsurface Biosphere Education and Research as the focal point of OSU Strategic Plan themes that directly relate to the mission of OSU as a Land Grant University. The Subsurface Biosphere interconnects the topic areas, including existing educational and research activities. Three focus areas are shown: Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Sustainable Natural Resources, and Engineered Environmental Processes. Twenty-eight faculty in five OSU Colleges (Agricultural Sciences, Engineering, Forestry, Oceanic and Atmospheric Science, and Science) will hopefully become involved in Initiative activities.

The Center of Excellence for Subsurface Biosphere Education and Research will serve to:

  • tie the biological and earth scientists and environmental engineers closer together to make fundamental contributions to the better understanding of biogeochemical cycles
  • foster new technologies in interdisciplinary efforts to study soil processes in a more holistic fashion
  • emphasize the interaction between microorganisms, water, and the physico-chemical properties of the subsurface
  • promote the engineering of environmental processes for clean-up of contaminants, as well as fostering the development of nanotechnology.

Of particular interest for our first goal is to develop better interdisciplinary communication among the OSU faculty. Communication will be promoted by the development of a Web site to provide information related to the Center's activities; developing a seminar series; and holding an annual retreat for faculty and students.

The second goal of developing Top Tier multidisciplinary graduate education requires having strong research programs to recruit top graduate students. Several new junior faculty will be hired in key research areas that cross traditional boundaries between Colleges.

The third goal will foster the creation of externally funded research centers or programs, and large interdisciplinary research grants. Initiative funds will support seed research that will aid in the development of large, extramurally funded projects. Funds will also be used to assist faculty in writing these grants.

The fourth goal is to build diversity through our undergraduate and graduate research programs. Funds will provide an opportunity for undergraduate research that will specifically recruit women and minorities into the program. By increasing the diversity of the undergraduates performing research, we hope to attract these students into graduate school at OSU.