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Claire Phillips
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I grew up in Northern California and studied biology at Stanford University and ecology and soil science at Oregon State University. After receiving my Ph.D. in 2009 I worked on carbon dioxide leak detection from unconventional oil operations in Canada, radiocarbon dating to trace soil greenhouse gas emissions at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and most recently studied biochar impacts on soil water and carbon dynamics at the USDA-ARS Forage Seed and Cereal Research Laboratory in Corvallis, Oregon. My research at NLAE will focus on improving soil physical quality, soil water management, and soil carbon sequestration.

I would love to hear from stakeholders and can be reached at 


Was there an event or a person who inspired you to become a scientist?

Research is the family business. There are exceptions among us, but much of my extended family works in research or health care, so it was the cumulative influence of my whole family that led me to science. My dad was anthropology professor, and I drew a picture in elementary school of myself holding a magnifying glass to the ground with a caption that said “I want to be an anthropologist that studies plants.” I wasn’t too far off.


What attracted you to ARS or the NLAE?

Working at NLAE is my dream job. When I toured the building and saw almost every soil research apparatus I have used or ever wanted to use, I thought “I’ve found my people.” The team at NLAE shares a vision for developing resilient agriculture rooted in sustainable soil management. When a group of like-minded and driven people get together on a topic we can get a lot done.


What is your favorite aspect of conducting research?

I like getting praise for research that other scientists think is important, but I love doing research that producers also think is important. I love picking up on producers’ problems, figuring out an answer, reporting back information they needed, and working together to identify the next problem. The virtuous cycle of collaborating with stakeholders invigorates me and challenges me in a rewarding way.


If you could achieve any research accomplishment in the next 5-10 years what would it be and why would you choose it?

There is a long history of soil conservation in the Midwest, and a baseline interest in regenerative farming practices that is simply more widespread than in the Pacific Northwest. I will be working with cover crops in restrictive soils where we think they can have a big impact on improving soil water management and crop production. I’m really hopeful that in the next 5-10 years this work will translate to greater cover crop adoption. I want to be a technician and source of expertise to help make that happen.


Tell us something about yourself that might surprise people who know you? 

I was a collegiate rower and in my senior year my boat finished 6th in the NCAA championship in Indianapolis. I have not been in a shell in almost 20 years, but I still love canoeing, kayaking, and messing around in motor boats. I am happiest when I’m on the water, especially boating with my husband and 3 year old daughter.