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The beauty of decay

My graduate work focuses on the decomposition of soil organic matter.

All day, I measure invisible things: microbial exhalations, molecules of carbon and nitrogen. It feels simultaneously magical (that we have tools that can “see” these things, even if our eyes cannot) and futile (it can be hard to know the difference between invisible things and nothing).

Soils don’t get too much press — they are dark, and usually stable, and easy to take for granted. But the work that occurs in soils is what allows us all to do our work — breaking down the old to become new again.

These pilings have been decaying in salt water — slowly — since the late 1800’s. This is exactly the beauty I imagine in my work, on a larger, visible scale.

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  1. Soil doesn’t get much press is right but it is our foundation! After taking some soil classes at university and understanding the microbial importance it really opened my eyes! In a more basic sense, the farm I am working at this summer is starting a new 1/2 acre here near Laramie on a bison ranch. The soil has just been tilled and looks beautiful. Not always the case here. The real test will come once we get to plant.


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