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NRES Newsletter

Spring 2016

Page 9

Course Highlight: PLS 366

By: Lexi Neukirch and Katie Morrison

Fundamentals of Soil Science (PLS 366) is one of the NRES core course requirements, recommended for students to take in their junior year. This course involves the study of the physical, chemical and biological properties of soils and how they relate to plant nutrient availability and plant growth, land-use planning and management, and soil and water quality issues. Three hours of lecture per week are complemented by three hours of laboratory. The prerequisite for this course is CHE 105. There are two sections of this course, taught by Dr. Chris Matocha and Dr. Dave McNear, each highlighted below.

Dr. Dave McNear is an Associate Professor Dr. Chris Matocha of Rhizosphere Science in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and teaches PLS 366 every fall semester. He has been interested in soil chemistry since he first began his education with an Associate degree in Life Sciences. He earned both his B.S and M.S from Penn State, in Environmental Resource Management and Environmental Pollution Control with a focus in Soil Chemistry, respectively, followed by a PhD in Environmental Soil Chemistry from the University of Delaware. The fall section of PLS 366 usually includes 40-60 students divided into four labs. Dr. McNear enjoys teaching Fundamentals of Soil Science because of its broad applicability to a wide array of students. He encourages students of all disciplines to enroll in the course, and hopes that they will leave with a greater appreciation for soil and an understanding of how it must be managed correctly. Dr. McNear looks forward to getting to know his students each semester and seeing what roles the students take on in the lectures and labs. He knows that many students find PLS 366 to be daunting, but he says that the class is structured to keep everyone caught up and encourage critical thinking. While the course is a lot of work, it may be the only soils course that many students take, so it is important that everyone understands broad concepts from soil formation to growing crops. Dr. McNear advises students to remember that they will get out of the class what they put in, and that interaction in labs and outside of class is the key to success. Dr. McNear can be contacted for more information at Pictured above: (left) Dr. Dave McNear and (right) Dr. Chris Matocha.

first developed an appreciation of soil science growing up on a farm in Texas and participating in 4-H. He earned his B.S. in Plant and Environmental Soil Science and M.S. in Soil Science (both from Texas A & M) as well as his PhD in Plant and Soil Sciences from the University of Delaware. Dr. Matocha’s section of PLS 366 is offered every spring semester, accepting approximately 65-75 students with lab sections capped at 15 students due to space constraints. Dr. Matocha encourages all students to enroll in this course, even those without any background awareness of the importance of soil as a natural resource. “Even those students who might have some exposure to soil might be surprised at how diverse it is, providing a wide array of goods and services.” With these two topics as main goals of the course, Dr. Matocha hopes students will learn in this class why it is essential that soils be conserved. Dr. Matocha finds studying soils interesting because of the “interconnected functions between soil and food production, the water cycle, and cycling of atmospheric gases.” The lecture for this course provides an introduction to concepts in this field, with the lab reinforcing the lecture and allowing students an opportunity to gain hands-on experience with soil. Dr. Matocha says, “(everyone) has to eat so an understanding of how food is grown in soil, and the properties that promote sustainable food production, is paramount.” For more information on this course and the more advanced Soils classes he teaches, Dr. Matocha can be contacted at

University of Kentucky NRES Spring 2016 Newsletter