Kaye receives Black Award for excellence in research

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jason Kaye, professor of soil biogeochemistry, is the recipient of the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences' 2017 Alex and Jessie C. Black Award for Excellence in Research.

The honor, which includes a $5,000 cash stipend, recognizes a tenure-track faculty member in the college whose significant accomplishments include exceptional and original agricultural research conducted at Penn State.

Kaye will receive the award during the Gamma Sigma Delta Celebration of Excellence to be held on Thursday, March 29, in 112 Forest Resources Building. The celebration begins with a reception in the atrium starting at 4:30 p.m., and the award ceremony begins at 5 p.m.

A faculty member in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management since 2005, Kaye has been a pioneer in a critically important but understudied corner of ecology: the nutrient cycling dynamics driven by soils, soil-forming processes, and the role plants play in mediating those dynamics.

He has been the lead soil scientist on a team that is conceptualizing a new approach to addressing broad-scale questions about how plants, soils, hydrology and climate interact. The team's interdisciplinary, synthetic approach — referred to as the "critical zone approach" — brings together biology, soil science, geology, hydrology and meteorology. The team measures chemical and biological transport and transformation that have influenced past landscape evolution, with an eye toward improving projections of future conditions.

This approach has precipitated important insights that link hydrology, weathering rates, soil characteristics, nutrient availability, microbial processes and plant dynamics.

"Dr. Kaye's many contributions to the development of this field of science and the Critical Zone Observatory network are internationally regarded and have provided a conceptual and infrastructural foundation upon which interdisciplinary research has flourished here at Penn State, so much so that Penn State is widely viewed as the national leader in critical zone research," wrote David Mortensen, distinguished professor of weed ecology, in nominating Kaye for award.

Kaye also has made important research contributions to the field of sustainable agriculture, most notably conducting systems-level research aimed at identifying ways in which farming can be performed in a more environmentally supporting way. For instance, his groundbreaking work has helped quantify the interplay between carbon accumulation in soils and nitrogen retention. In addition, he and his students have documented how the practice of cover cropping can be used to mitigate nutrient-leaching losses and to buffer crops from climate variation.

Kaye's passion for molding the next generation of scientific researchers — and his dedication to being a strong teacher, adviser and mentor to students — have been lauded by faculty and students.

"Dr. Kaye's general advising philosophy has been built upon the foundational idea that you can learn the most from interactions with those around you, and thus, he understands that sometimes a focus on the whole group will lead to benefits for each individual in the group," noted Julie Weitzman, postdoctoral research associate.

Kaye grew up in rural Virginia and majored in chemistry as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia. He received his master of science degree in forestry, with a focus on ecological restoration of forests with prescribed fire, from Northern Arizona University, and earned a doctorate from Colorado State University. He has published 85 papers and authored four book chapters.

At Penn State, Kaye teaches undergraduate and graduate classes in ecosystem ecology, environmental sustainability and biogeochemistry.

The Alex and Jessie C. Black Award is a tribute to the life and career of the late Alex Black, who was a professor of animal nutrition and the associate director of the Agricultural Experiment Station at Penn State, and his wife, the late Jessie Clements Black.

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Last Updated March 23, 2018