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Success story: Carsten Müller - Scoping out soils with NanoSIMS

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Carsten W. Müller, associate professor in the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources Management at Denmark’s University of Copenhagen, has helped pioneer the use of advanced nanoscale imaging to study complex soil component interactions.

In a recent collaboration with scientists at Technical University of Munich, NanoSIMS was used to quantitatively assess interactions between microbial decay of plant residues and soil structure formation and to determine how the formation of particulate organic matter (POM) is fostered by the biogeochemical interaction of POM, microorganisms, and minerals at their interfaces.

Among the team’s findings: not only are those POM surfaces hotspots for microbial activity. Confirming earlier theories, they’re also critical nuclei for the formation of mineral-associated organic matter, regardless of soil texture. Fungi play a surprisingly large role here. And ultimately, the activity at the POM surface is key to regulating carbon persistence in the soil.

“NanoSIMS has revolutionized soil science,” Dr. Müller declares. "Now we can directly witness the arrangement of soil constituents and gain insight into their interactions at the sub-micrometer scale: something hitherto impossible."

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