People

Spring 2024 Group. Missing:  Michael Douglass; Katherine Castaneda; Neha Chatterjee; Natacha de Gracia Fuentes; Guadalupe Gonzalez; Chase Kasmerchak; Carlos Murillo; Ezra Moses; Eric Potash; Max Roman; Kato Ssentamu; Robert Yanes

Dr. Andrew Margenot  Principal Investigator (PI) CV (January 2024)
Associate Professor, Department of Crop Sciences, UIUC

Senior Associate Editor, Geoderma
Section Editor, Plant and Soil
Associate Editor, European Journal of Soil Science
Associate Editor, Farming Systems

Director, Alma Mater Plots (est. 2023)
Director, Morrow Plots (est. 1876)
Associate Director & Founding Member, Agroecosystem Sustainability Center, UIUC
Affiliate Faculty, Program in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology, UIUC
Affiliate Faculty, Center for Digital Agriculture, UIUC
Affiliate Faculty, Center for African Studies, UIUC


Dr. Shengnan Zhou Research scientist
My research interests include soil erosion and degradation in intensively managed landscapes, particularly focusing on C and P dynamics. I am currently working to determine Illinois soil legacy P using archived historical soil samples to evaluate agricultural management effects on P losses and investments in P loss reduction strategies.

Dr. Chongyang (Oliver) Li Research scientist
I have been trained as an environmental chemist and had experience with multiple elements/substances in soils regarding their application, function, and/or remediation, including biochar, heavy metals (As and Cd), radioisotopic P (32P and 33P) and enzymes. At UIUC, I mainly focus on using isotopes to trace the uptake of N, P and S from soils/fertilizers by plants, and linking them with corresponding soil enzyme assays to better understand nutrient cycling processes in soils.

Dr. Chammi Attanayake Research scientist
I study biogeochemical transformations of contaminants and nutrients in soils. Most of my research is related to studying speciation and bioavailability of trace elements in urban soils and transformations of phosphorus in submerged soils. At UIUC, I have the opportunity to extend my research to study soil enzyme activity for soil health assessments, which would make the path for me to understand transformations in soils more comprehensively. In my leisure time, I watch movies and read books. I love to travel with my family and try different food.

Dr. Suwei Xu Post-doc
My current research focuses on the phosphorus biogeochemical cycle in the environment, especially on the distribution and speciation of P in the soil environment with different agricultural management or land use. My major interest is in how different soil forming factors (i.e., climate, parent material, vegetation, etc.) or activities (i.e., deforestation, invasive species) affect the Pi and Po speciation and movement and what are the possible environment responses.


Dr. Chase Kasmerchak Post-doc
My formal training is in soil science and ecosystem ecology and my research interests broadly include how land management and disturbance affect biogeochemical cycling and ecosystem function. I have worked on a wide variety of research projects in the past, including how soil morphology and carbon dynamics respond to millennial-scale vegetation change, how future changes to lake-effect snow and forest composition may affect soil methane uptake, and how the genetic diversity of trembling aspen and disturbance history influence biogeochemical cycling. At UIUC, I will be working on a variety of projects using stable and radioactive carbon isotope data to understand how vegetation and land management history affect soil carbon cycling. Outside of research, you can find me on the dance floor supporting local Chicago house music

Ezra Moses Lead ecologist and data scientist
My work is motivated by the stories we can uncover from agricultural soil data to help build a more sustainable and equitable food system. I am interested in using statistical and visual techniques to facilitate understanding of soil processes by researchers and farmers alike, with main topics of interest including soil nutrient management and cover crops.

Eric Potash Post-doc
A mathematician by training, Dr. Potash is supporting the re-sampling of the >400 pedons originally sampled in the Illinois soil survey initiated in 1899, and leads an evaluation of increasing sensitivity of soil organic and inorganic carbon measurements.

Michael Douglass Head field technician
I thoroughly enjoy working as a research tech in the field environment and trying to tame down the variables which accompany it. I’ve been fortunate to work with exceptional people along the way and gain experience in a range of settings: from agroforestry, fruit & vegetable production, cover crops, corn/soy farming, and weed management.

Taylor Berkshire-Akers Lab manager & Head lab technician
As part of my duties as lab manager and head lab technician, I oversee the operations of the wet labs and coordinate multiple research projects with field and lab components. I focus on cover crops (seeding rates, different ways of seeding, and grazing) and their role in nutrient cycling, specifically nitrogen. Research aside, I enjoy spending time with my family, listening to podcasts, renovating my house, and spending time outside (when it’s warm).

Kato Ssentamu  Research technician
Kato earned a Bachelor’s degree in Agribusiness in 2015. He joins the soils lab from the Sustainable Systems lab, for which he has spent nearly a decade working as lab assistant. Kato grew up outside of Kampala, Uganda, and continues to manage a family farm in Africa growing corn, sugarcane, coffee, and plantains. Kato works part-time as a Field Technician for IntelinAir, a local startup company that develops agricultural analytics based on Aerial imagery. Kato is interested in growing his business and helping ensure global food security. Hobbies include barbeques, bonfires, and watching soccer.

Sara Eldessouky Research Technician
I have been working on improving crop quality, quantity, and abiotic stress tolerances. I am gaining new experiences now and enjoying my time after joining the soil lab recently. I also like reading, cooking and spending time outdoors.

Guadalupe González Delgado Research technician
I hold a bachelor’s degree in environmental and development engineering from Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School in Honduras. My work primarily centers on field activities, including biomass collection, soil sampling, and greenhouse gas (GHG) measurements. My passion lies in researching how human actions and natural processes shape soil, influencing its pedogenesis. Understanding these impacts is vital for sustainable land management. Beyond work, I find joy in training, watching movies, exploring new places, and immersing myself in the great outdoors.

Natacha de Gracia Fuentes Research technician
I earned my bachelor’s degree in environmental and development engineering from Zamorano Pan-American Agricultural School, Honduras. I enjoy doing research which can improve farming systems through eco and technological approaches like organic management, precision agriculture, and agroecology for greater productivity and resilience to climate change. This way we can ensure the long-term sustainability of food systems for the benefit of society and the environment. Outside of the lab, you can find me spending time with my lovely friends, hiking when the weather is nice, reading or listening to books and watching a good movie.

Carlos Murillo Research technician
I graduated in 2022 from EAP Zamorano, Honduras where I get my B.Sc. in Environment and Development Engineering. My research focuses on measuring streambank erosion across the rivers in Illinois and imagery analysis from previous research (project on which I have previous experience by working on Kansas State University). In my free time, I enjoy watching and playing sports, especially soccer.

Grecia Romero Rosales Research Technician
I have a bachelor’s degree in Environment and Development Engineering and work as a research technician collecting data on biomass, greenhouse gases and soil from soybean and corn fields. I am originally from Soyapango, El Salvador. In my free time I enjoy going out with friends, reading, drawing and painting.

Simón Giraldo Trujillo Research Technician
Simón is working on run-off losses of sediment and phosphorus under varying tillage, cover crop and P fertilizer timing and source treatments.

Robert Yanes Buezo Research Technician
Robert is supporting multiple projects, including assessment of streambank erosion in Illinois.


Graduate Students

Neha Chatterjee PhD candidate
I am working on evaluation of the agronomic and environmental impact of a waste-recovered slow release Phosphorus fertilizer struvite. Essentially I am looking at cover crops and mycorrhizae as biological mechanisms to improve the P availability. Outside the lab, I enjoy TED Talks, classic literature and contemporary science fiction.

Yuhei Nakayama PhD candidate
Yuhei seeks to understand soil nutrient dynamics in both natural and agricultural systems through the use of various biogeochemical tools. Current topics of interest include soil enzymes, soil phosphorus dynamics, and volcanic soils.

Rosa Elena Ibarra López PhD candidate
I am working in quantifying contextual linkages between soil health and crop nitrogen availability in agricultural systems through the assessment of soil mineralogy and nitrogen synchrony analyses. Outside of the lab, I enjoy spending time with my loved ones, watching tv shows and movies, listening to new music, dancing, reading and meeting new places.

Finnleigh Woodings  PhD student
My interests include spectroscopy and mechanisms of SOC stabilization with a focus on biomimetic assays of labile C. I am also working on biophysical assessments of sustainability in the multi-state USDA-NIFA Sustainable Agricultural Systems (SAS) project, #DiverseCornBelt. Outside of lab I can be found reading in my hammock or hiking.

Patricia Leon PhD student
Patricia is from Chicago, Illinois and graduated with a B.Sc in Environmental Science from Northeastern Illinois University in 2020. Patricia’s research interests further expand into understanding the interconnection between urban and agricultural influences on the environment. Hobbies include reading, cycling, and spending time with family and pets.

Heidi Allen Asensio   PhD student
I graduated with a B.Sc. in Environment and Development Engineering from Escuela Agrícola Panamericana Zamorano, Honduras. My research focuses of developing accurate nutrient management principles to optimize coffee yield and quality for smallholders in south-central Guatemala, my home country. In my free time, I enjoy outdoor activities, drinking coffee (of course) and spending time with family and friends.

Luke Bergschneider MS student
I graduated from Western Illinois University with my bachelor’s degree in 2022, after studying agricultural science and agronomy. My research focuses on contextualizing soil nutrient loads and calculating balances for fields in Illinois under best management practices. I look forward to applying what I learn to my family’s farm in central Illinois. Outside of the lab I enjoy hunting and fishing, following the St. Louis Cardinals and Blues, reading, and spending time with my family and friends.

Pei Chen Lee PhD student
I am interested in nutrient cycling, especially C, N, and P. I am currently working on the Salk project, exploring the relationship between SOC and soybean roots. In my free time, I enjoy playing table tennis, swimming or cycling. I also love watching movie series.

Mariana Gómez Botero PhD student
My research focuses on the fascinating world of water quality and nutrient losses! Specifically, I seek to understand how best management practices, such as no-tillage, cover cropping, and fertilizer source and timing, impact N and P losses through erosion, runoff, and leaching. By understanding these complex interactions, I aim to contribute to the achievement of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) long-term goal and minimize the contribution of Illinois agricultural systems to the Gulf of Mexico. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my cat, reading, hiking and practicing yoga.

Javier Enrique Taracena Aldana MS student
I am interested in learning about laboratory analytic processes, soil management and health so that Iater on I can apply my knowledge in Guatemala, my home country, and help other producers to ensure the well-being of their soils. In my free time I enjoy doing any kind of sports with friends, hangout with my family and close my afternoons with a good cup of coffee.

Adriana Reconco Martínez MS student

Katherine Castañeda MS student


Undergraduate Students & Interns

Rut Félix Monción Intern (Zamorano University)


Gone but not forgotten…

Max Roman Undergrad research assistant (2021 – 2024)

Elaine Guel Undergrad research assistant (2023 – 2024)

Allison Altschuler Research Technician (2023 – 2024)

Maia Rothman Research Technician (2021 – 2024)  

Dr. Annie Irshad  Post-doc (2022-2023) Now: University of Nottingham, UK

Benjamin Hubbell Undergrad research assistant (2023)

Crystal Alexander Part-time hourly (2023)

Dr. Jeonggu Lee Postdoc (2022-2023). Now professor (South Korea).

Sarah Shoaff Undergrad research assistant (2021-2022)

Dr. Jasdeep Singh. Postdoc (2022-2023). Now postdoc at Cornell University.

Jessica Hendrickson Undergrad research assistant and ELIAS Fellow (2021-2023).

Bri Gates Research technician (2018-2020) and MS student (2021-2023). Now at Piatt Co. SWCD.

Shawn Arreguin Undergrad research assistant (2021-2023). Now PhD student at University of Illinois Chicago

Dr. Sajjad Raza Postdoc (2022-2023). Now postdoc at University of Nottingham, UK.

Dr. Michele Duarte de Menezes‎ Visiting Professor, Universidade Federal de Lavras (2022-2023)

Marcelo Henrique Procópio Pelegrino Visiting PhD student, Universidade Federal de Lavras (2022)

Dr. Nan Li Post-doc (2021-2023)

Rachel Daughtridge  Research Technician (2019-2022). Now research scientist at EPA Region 5.

Noah Bell  Undergrad research assistant, 2021

Sanchez Rolle REU intern (Summer 2022), MPH/PhD student, Tuskegee University

J Kemner Research technician (2021 – 2022). Now PhD student at UC Riverside

Sebastian Mora Monge Research technician (2022)

Andrew Malcomson Undergraduate research assistant (2021-2022). Now MS student at UW Madison.

Cindy Lisbeth Guardado Moncada Visiting scholar, Zamorano University (Spring 2022)

Jessie Arabely Navas Soto Visiting scholar, Zamorano University (Fall 2021)

Lukas Wright  Undergraduate research assistant (2018-2021). Now Illinois NRCS.

Dr. Jordon Wade Post-doc (2019 – 2021). Now Assistant Professor of Soil Health at University of Missouri

Lexi Gomez Undergraduate research assistant (summer 2021)

Cole Diaz Undergraduate research assistant (summer 2021)

Dr. Chongyang (Oliver) Li Postdoc (2019-2021)

George Watson MS student (2019-2021)

Jeremy Peterson Undergraduate research assistant (2019 – 2021)

Dr. Chunhao Gu  Post-doc (2018-2020). Now associate professor at Chinese University of Geoscience, Wuhan, China.

Alyssa Nuñez  Undergraduate research assistant (Fall 2018 – Spring 2020)

Ariel Roh  Undergraduate research assistant (Spring 2020)

Kee Joo Nam  Undergraduate research assistant (Fall 2019, Spring 2020)

Liz Miernicki Lab technician (2018 – 2019)

Izzi Di Tomassi NSF REU PRECS Intern (Summer 2019)

Erinn R Dady NSF REU PRECS intern (Summer 2019)

Grace Trankina, Undergrad research assistant (Spring 2018, Fall 2018-Spring 2019)

Linnie Shapiro, Undergrad research assistant (Fall 2018 – Spring 2019)

Naomi Canino, Undergrad research assistant (Fall 2018-Spring 2019)

Helen Senerchia, NSF REU PRECS Intern (Summer 2018)

Erik Stanek, Honorary Lab Member (knows plant stuff) (Summer-Fall 2018)

Nick Kaufmann, Undergrad research assistant (Summer 2018)


Spring 2023 Group. Missing:  Chammi Attanayake, Benjamin Hubbell, Chase Kasmerchak, Bri Gates, Elaine Guel, Chongyang (Oliver) Li, Sajjad Raza, Max Roman, Sarah Shoaff, Kato Ssentamu

July 2022 Group. Missing: Noah Bell, Neha Chatterjee, Rachel Daughtridge, Dr. Michele Duarte de Menezes‎, Michael Douglass, Jessica Hendrickson, Marcelo H. Procópio Pelegrino, Rosa Ibarra López, Kato Ssentamu, Javier Taracena, Pei-Chen Lee, Sebastian Mora Monge

February 2022 Group. Missing: Kato Ssentamu, Noah Bell, Dr. Michele Duarte de Menezes‎, Marcelo Henrique Procópio Pelegrino , Dr. Jeonggu Lee
August 2021 Group. Missing: Kato Ssentamu, Shengnan Zhou, Lukas Wright, Andrew Malcomson, Jessica Hendrickson, Max Roman.
February 2021 Group. Missing: Patricia Leon, Kato Ssentamu, Shengnan Zhou, Lukas Wright, Andrew Malcomson, Jessica Hendrickson, Max Roman.
January 2020
Summer 2018
Standing proudly on top of the Illinois state soil, the Drummer series
(Fine-silty, mixed, superactive, mesic Typic Endoaquolls)