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ARS Scientist Awarded for computer Modeling Research / February 13, 2002 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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ARS Scientist Awarded for computer Modeling Research

By Amy Spillman
February 13, 2002

RIVERSIDE, Calif., Feb. 13—Martinus (Rien) T. van Genuchten, a supervisory soil scientist with the Agricultural Research Service, has won a technology transfer award from the agency and will be honored in a ceremony today at the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.

Soil and groundwater pollution is a growing worldwide problem that the United States and other countries have spent billions of dollars trying to solve. Over the past 25 years, computer models have become increasingly important tools in this effort, thanks in large part to the work of van Genuchten, a research leader at ARS’ George E. Brown, Jr., Salinity Laboratory in Riverside, Calif.

For much of his career, van Genuchten has been writing and refining computer programs that can be used to analyze highly complex systems involving water flow and contaminant transport beneath the soil surface. Agricultural engineers using such programs can design irrigation and drainage systems that provide optimal water to crops while minimizing the transport of fertilizers and pesticides to groundwater.

Van Genuchten’s first programs, developed in the mid-70s, were useful for analyzing laboratory- and field-scale solute transport problems. Unfortunately, the use of these and other programs was limited to other scientists; soil and groundwater professionals and engineers did not have access to them. He recognized the need to place his programs within a more user- friendly context and, by the early 1990s, began working with university and private industry collaborators to develop user-friendly software. The result of this collaboration was HYDRUS, a state-of-the-art computer model with applications for real-world use.

Van Genuchten was not only one of the lead authors of the HYDRUS program, but also a key figure in developing a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) between the George E. Brown, Jr., Salinity Laboratory and the International Ground Water Modeling Center of the Colorado School of Mines to commercialize the Windows-based software.

Since its inception, some 6,000 copies of the HYDRUS program have been distributed freely, while more than 550 copies of a user-enhanced model have been sold as part of the CRADA.

HYDRUS software is now being used all over the world and is considered the industry and academic standard not only for agricultural situations, but also for municipal and industrial waste disposal problems and other applications. Its adoption has resulted in improved water management in many countries, a trend likely to continue since universities now use the software in classes on subsurface flow and contaminant transport.

The Technology Transfer Award is being given this year to eight individuals or teams who have done outstanding work in transferring ARS technology to outside users. Van Genuchten’s citation is “for outstanding initiative and creativity in developing and transferring worldwide user-friendly computer software for addressing subsurface pollution problems.” ARS Acting Administrator Edward B. Knipling will present van Genuchten with a cash award and a plaque at the Feb. 13 ceremony.

Van Genuchten has been employed by USDA since 1986, but he began his work at the George E. Brown, Jr., Salinity Laboratory eight years earlier, in 1978. He received both bachelor’s and master’s of science degrees in irrigation and drainage from Agricultural University in Wageningen, The Netherlands, in 1968 and 1971, respectively. He received his doctorate in soil physics from New Mexico State University in 1975. Van Genuchten and his family live in Moreno Valley.

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Last Modified: 2/13/2002
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