Erin Bush, Graduate Research and Teaching Assistant
Kansas State University
Life Inside the Lab:
What is your research topic? I just started my master’s work, so I don’t have a specific project lined up just yet. However, I am pursuing a master’s in Pedology, which is basically soil genesis, or soil formation. I want to do research that is going to benefit production agriculture.
USA Soil Judging Team at our last contest pit in Godollo, Hungary in September 2015. left to right: Stephen Geib (Delaware Valley College), Adrienne Nottingham (West Virginia University), Kristen Pegues (Auburn University), Erin Bush (Kansas State University)
What was your best day in science? There are SO MANY. I love science. However, the best day of science was a beautiful day in Atkár, Hungary. I traveled there as a team member of the U.S. International Soil Judging Team in 2015, which was the United Nations International Year of Soils (I still get so excited that they dedicated a whole year to soil). Anyways, we started by judging a beautiful Vertisol, which is a soil that is high in clay and goes through shrinking and swelling. It takes on the characteristic of a “bowl” when dug to see the profile because of the clay content. It also had beautiful carbonates underneath the layers of high clay. Then, the contest organizer got very excited as we left the pit. She even gave us a “pump up” speech about what we were going to see next (I was so excited because my team members and I saw a picture of an awesome soil profile on the website and we were hoping that’s what this was going to be). IT WAS. We walked down some stairs under an overhang and around the corner was the most incredible soil profile that I had ever seen (and will probably ever see, ever). It was full of white and light brown swirls with no pattern and no layering. It is so complex and unique that it doesn’t fit into any classification system. It took my breath away. As they described how they predict that it was formed, I furiously took notes so that I could tell my coach and peers back home. She mentioned that they built the overhang, benches, and walkway to preserve it since there is nothing like it anywhere on the planet. When they finished construction, they had a dedication ceremony and a band played and people sang. Once again, I love science. I have attached a picture of it (I put a description of the picture at the bottom of my submission that was compiled by my notes). The description is long, so contact me if you want a shorter one because it is worth a blurb in an article for sure!
What was your worst day in science? The worst days of science are when you’re so close to finding the solution, but there’s a “writer’s block” period of time when you can’t figure out how to get to the result.
What did you study at university? For my bachelor’s degree, I studied agronomy with emphasis in soil and environmental science. I got a secondary major in natural resources and environmental sciences. They go together pretty well. My master’s is also in agronomy with a focus on soil, but more specifically I will complete a project in Pedology.
What does your average day look like? Classes start next week. I will be taking three classes, Principles of Soil and Plant Water Relations, Advanced Soil Genesis and Classification, and Soil Chemistry. I will also be teaching the Soil Genesis and Classification lab, as well as collaborating with professors to outline my project details. Once the outline is set, I will start research.
Kansas State University Soil Judging Team in a practice pit of an “Oreo soil” in Wahoo, Nebraska at the Region V Soil Judging Competition this past October 2016. It had awesome prismatic structure and is found in a “playa” of an old river valley.
What are some of the highlights of your career?
- First, working with soil. It is so complex and so interesting.
- Second, working with people who love soil. People at Kansas State truly care about one another. The common theme of “family” is extremely prevalent. I hope that never changes!
- Third, communicating the importance of soil, agronomy, and agriculture (I love teaching). There is so much miscommunication with the public and I am grateful to have the opportunity to tell the truths about science and agriculture when I have the opportunity. Farmers are awesome and so are scientists.
- Also, traveling. I have been all over for soil judging (Pennsylvania, Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota twice, Nebraska, Arkansas, Hungary) and for school (Tampa, Long Beach, Minneapolis, Arizona, Brazil, Phoenix). It is SO COOL to see how different or the same agriculture is in different parts of the world.
What is your favorite piece of technology or equipment you get to use in your job? Myself and technology aren’t the greatest together, but I have gotten better with it during my undergraduate research when I calibrated water content reflectometers in the lab. Just those probes can tell information about a soil that can be very useful to a producer and scientist to help manage irrigation scheduling and runoff potential. Both of those management tools are extremely important with the concern for pollutants in water and also the lack of fresh water to support our growing population.
Life Outside of Lab
Where did you grow up? I grew up in Franklin, Indiana, which is about 20 miles south of Indianapolis. I grew up a Hoosier fan (Indiana University), but the Ag school in Indiana is Purdue (big rivalry). Purdue is an exceptional university, but when I visited K-State I felt at home. I love it here!
Description of Cool Soil:
Atkár, Hungary: Classification unknown. Formed from the young Pleistocene era due to resistance to sheering when temperatures shift because of the high amount of calcium carbonate from the loess. Leaching of calcium carbonate depends on what material it is in. Here, the soil goes through a process of carbonate formation, leaching, and erosion. The gray material at the bottom has no CaCO3 – it is impermeable lacustrine, keeping the carbonates from leaching further down. During the warm periods of the Pleistocene, it was saturated and on a slope. The escape of materials related to the pressure and force moving upward is related to porosity. This causes the load casting and forms the distortion of the CaCO3 in the profile. There are no biogenic influences because CaCO3 is pedogenic. Pure caco3 is not cemented as much. Hard carbonates are found cementing another material, such as a small aggregate.
What profession did you think you would be when you were a kid? I was a typical little girl who enjoyed kittens and calves, so I dreamt of being a veterinarian, working at a zoo, etc. Once I got into middle school, I began competing in crops judging and soil judging through FFA. From then on, I knew that I would be working in an agronomic position.
What do you do to relax outside of lab? Chase sunsets, watch movies/sports, bake pies (Hoosier sugar cream pie is my favorite)
Do you have any pets? My mom has a black lab named Gunnar. My dad has some barn cats that are still around (fake Chuck – the original Chuck is gone but this one looks the same – Butterscotch, Alana, Liz, new mysterious black kitten). I grew up with dogs, cats, goats (for a few years), and 4-H cattle.
Do you have any fun hobbies? Not really, but I love taking pictures of dirt or gravel roads and sunsets.
How did your family life develop alongside your career? My parents did not farm, but my family on my mom’s side does. Most of my cousins were dairy farmers, but many of them had to quit due to the market. My brother and I were always heavily into sports, but also 4-H and FFA. My brother is married to an elementary school teacher and he works for an independent crop consulting company that also provides crop protection.
What was your biggest motivation to obtain your PhD? We will see if that will happen…my master’s will let me know if I am capable of pursuing that!!
Is there any one event or person who/that made you want to be a scientist? Soil judging and my soil judging coach, Dr. Mickey Ransom. He is a genius and amazing.
This was along the road on our way to an Agronomy farm tour in January 2015 to see soybeans in cover crop management. Our bus pulled over so we could play in this huge road cut of red Brazil soil! It is an oxisol and stains your hands red for a good while! Every other year the KSU Agronomy Department takes a ~2 week faculty-led tour to Brazil. In the off years, they go to Costa Rica over spring break. Most of the things we see are related to Agronomy, so we visit different operations to experience agriculture in different parts of the world!
Why were you drawn to science? Did you ever consider another career path? I was drawn into science mostly through 4-H and FFA.
Why do you think it is important to have more women in STEM? We offer a different approach to science sometimes. Men and women have different thinking processes and sometimes for the general public to understand, it is good to have someone that they can associate with or understand better. Diversity is key.
What is your best advice for girls interested in science?
1. Find something you are passionate about and ask questions about it. Everything involves science – sports, plants, animals, shoes!
2. Get involved in internships. I did one through the university and was able to do research. I also did an internship with sales. I found out I probably shouldn’t go into sales J.
What is your favorite book? Green eggs and ham. I honestly don’t read a whole lot, but I like the Divergent series, too.
What is your favorite desk snack? Goldfish
What is your favorite cartoon? Now that’s a tough question. I love Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird. I love Tom & Jerry.
What would you listen to while writing? It really depends on the day. Sometimes I will listen to country music, sometimes I will listen to alternative music that has a softer feel, sometimes Christian music.
What was your favorite subject in high school? I loved math. That might have been because my teachers were always so good. But math was the kind of homework that I didn’t mind doing. Once I developed a pattern on how to do specific problems under a certain topic, I was able to enjoy it. I also enjoyed my agriculture classes because we developed an aquaponics system in the greenhouse and were able to raise chickens, ducks, and rabbits at the school.
What is the strangest thing on your desk now? “Miracle Melters!”. For soil judging at the end of fall semester, we have a Christmas party and white elephant gift exchange. I received an elf that you build and shape, then over the course of about an hour he “melts” or just loses shape back to a blob sitting on the table. They make snowmen, too and probably others.
Organization nut, or curated chaos? More organization than chaos, but I am not the master organizer. If it is chaos, I cannot think clearly.
Another fun fact(s) about you is(are)…
1. I love flamingos. I have always loved that pastel light pink color that they acquire.
2. Also, I met my boyfriend in Agronomy, specifically soil judging. So that makes soil that much better. We are both in grad school. He is in his second year working with variable rate herbicides.
What color socks are you wearing? Purple, DUH. (K-State forever)