Rothamsted Research

where knowledge grows

Soil is Life!

Soil is Life!

Sunday, 17 May, 2015 -
10:00 to 17:00
Research Exhibition Day

Reception and information point

The Rothamsted Conference Centre reception is the starting point of the Soil is Life! Research Exhibition Day. Collect you guide, detailing the exhibits and activities of the day. For your convenience the guide includes a map highlighting, the location of exhibits and activities; and the walking route and the pick-up points of a shuttle service between the Conference Centre and Pennel’s Piece. 

Journey to the centre of the Earth 

An interactive display showing the first 23 cm of life underground including the millions of individual organisms and many thousands of species that can be found in just one teaspoon of soil. Some of their essential functions are described along with novel methods used to study the huge complexity of life in soil, to understand how it works and what previously undiscovered organisms it may contain. See a soil section with plants and worms; discover microscopic creatures; learn how to identify “hidden” organisms from DNA extracted from soil.


The Sample Archive

The Rothamsted Sample Archive contains more than 300,000 samples; many dating back to the middle of the 19th Century. The analysis of these samples provides information on aspects of plant nutrition, soil fertility, plant pathology and atmospheric pollution which could not have been anticipated when the samples were taken. See a selection of archived samples on display and speak with scientists on hand to explain the new science from these old samples. You can pre-book a tour of the Sample Archive at this exhibit.

Soil monoliths

A soil monolith is a vertical section of a soil profile excavated and mounted for study. A display of monoliths of undisturbed soils from different places will allow you to see how soils vary in their colour, composition and show layering with depth. These properties affect, for example, how well soils hold water and their fertility, and form the basis of soil classification. The soil monoliths have been especially transported from Cranfield University’s Soil and Agrifood Institute for Rothamsted Research’s Soil is Life! Research Exhibition Day.


Flash talks

Soil Science may be a foreign country to those who don’t speak the language. Flash talks on soil related research, carried out by PhD students at Rothamsted Research, will engage the audience in alternative ways for all to understand and enjoy!

Soil Spectacles

Bioimaging is imaging of biological materials, especially by the use of microscopy. Rothamsted Research's Bioimaging Facility provides state-of-the-art microscopy equipment and expertise. Experience the sight of soil beyond the naked eye. You can pre-book a tour of the Bioimaging Facility at this exhibit.


Under Attack

An interactive display focused on the biology and management of soil-borne plant pathogens.  Introducing how plant pathogens survive in the soil and cause disease as well as their control using pesticides, host resistance and cultural strategies such as crop rotation. See fungal spores and diseased plant samples examined under a microscope. Plant-microbe beneficial interactions demonstrated with the example of Phialophora fungi which are natural antagonists against take-all disease.

‘Pop-up Soil Lab’

Get the pH and inorganic carbon (IC) content of your garden/allotment soil tested at a ‘Pop-up Soil Lab’. Rothamsted Research's Analytical Chemistry Unit will demonstrate the use of a pH meter and a calcimeter This is a great opportunity to learn for analytical chemistry experts why the pH and the inorganic carbon (IC) content of soil is important. 


The Soil Spectrum

An interactive display of what makes different soils different. Explore different coloured soils and look at what makes them different colours, including factors such as their chemistry and the material from which they are derived. Build your own soil core in a test tube to take away. Take part in hands-on demonstrations of soil grain size, soil pH and soil nutrient status.

Let’s get Physical

An interactive display of, soil particle sizes in settling columns of water, demonstrating soil texture and structure; soil particle sizes in settling columns of water, demonstrating soil stability; soil pores and water using capillary columns and sponges, demonstrating the interaction of soil and water; and the use of the rhizotron to see roots growing in soil. Let's get physical with soil physics!


Spatial Prediction of Soil Properties

Plant nutrients in the soil are usually measured on small cores widely separated from one another in the field. Farmers and environmental agencies often want to know what the concentrations are at un-sampled places and in larger blocks of land for management. Geostatistics provide the tools to enable them to do so by the technique known as kriging. This exhibit will illustrate the steps in kriging exchangeable potassium in the soil of Broom’s Barn, and a hands-on demonstration enabling visitors to obtain predictions for places on the farm of their choosing.

‘Toss the Sod’ board game 

Do you know that the UK has many different soil types? Depending on where you live the soil beneath your feet will be different. Part-take in the ‘Toss the Sod’ board game to learn about the main soil types of the UK. This is a kid’s board game. The aim of the game is for kids to learn, through play, the basic soil types, that not all soil is equal and that soil types vary with geographical location. 


How food production affects climate

Food production requires application of nitrogen (N) to soils to meet the demands of a growing world population. Plants take up N and in livestock systems the N goes to milk and meat. This process is inefficient so a large amount of N is lost to the environment, to water courses and to the atmosphere. Some forms of this lost N cause environmental problems, such as nitrous oxide (N2O) which affects the climate due to its greenhouse effect (~300 times that of CO2). This exhibit shows how losses of greenhouse gases can be measured from farming systems.

The Broadbalk Experiment: looking back to the future

The Rothamsted Long-term Experiments (LTS) are a valuable scientific resource and national capability. Come visit the “classical” Broadbalk Wheat Experiment and see how different nutrients and application rates affect the soil and plant growth. Learn, from Rothamsted Research soil scientists, about the new science coming from this and other long-term experiments and their relevance to modern agriculture and the wider environment.


Static Machinery Display

The word tractor comes from the Latin word ‘trahere’, which means to pull or draw. Modern farming would not be what it is today without tractors. Today farmers get to choose from a range of cultivation implements, drawn by tractors, to plant crops and set grass seeds in soil. Visit a static display of Rothamsted Research farm machinery, including a tractor with plough and strain gauge, a tractor with soil penetrometer, a tractor with subsoil cultivator and a tractor with minimum tillage cultivator.


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