Japan Prize goes to Ohio State soil scientist Rattan Lal

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Rattan Lal, a soil scientist at The Ohio State University, has been awarded the 2019 Japan Prize, considered one of the most prestigious honors in science and technology.

Lal is the first Ohio State scientist and the first soil scientist to ever receive the prize. He is Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science at the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

The Japan 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 today in announcing the award.

Lal, whose career in science spans five decades and five continents, was honored for his research on sustainable soil management and its role in improving global food security and mitigating climate change.

Global food security is a growing issue because Earth’s population is expected to increase to near 10 billion people by 2050.

Climate change is a concern because of its harmful effects, which include warming temperatures, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and weather extremes, experts say.

SELECTION IS HIGHLY COMPETITIVE

The selection process for the Japan Prize is highly competitive, with about 15,000 nominees vying for two awards every year, the foundation said. Polymer scientist Yoshio Okamoto of Japan’s Nagoya University also received the award this year.

Lal was informed of the honor by a call from the Japanese consulate, he said.

“My first thought was ‘Wow!’ ” Lal said. “I wanted to be sure that I was awake and it was not a prank call.”

Lal is a faculty member in 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. He works both in Ohio and internationally. Soil degradation, a worldwide problem, includes a wide range of issues such as wind and water erosion, declines in soil fertility, organic matter loss, and contamination by chemicals.

Lal also is the founder and director of SENR’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center and is the past president of the 60,000-member International Union of Soil Sciences. He was born in Punjab, India (now part of Pakistan), and first came to Ohio State in 1968 to work on his PhD in soils.

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