Don & Betty Kirkham Award & Conferences

Don & Betty and their grandson Robby Kirkham, Ames, IA, 1988This webpage is dedicated to the late Don Kirkham, Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Agriculture and Professor of Physics at Iowa State University, and his wife Betty. Don Kirkham was probably the best-known soil physicist of the 20th Century. His special interest was the flow of water through soils and drainage of agricultural land. The host of exact mathematical solutions he provided has established him as without peer in this specialty, and qualifies him to be known as the founder of mathematical soil physics. He is credited with laying a mathematical foundation for drainage theory, changing the design of drainage systems from a purely experience-based skill to one based on physical understanding.

In the last century, Don Kirkham probably had more impact on drainage theory and soil physics as a discipline than any other person in the world. His towering contribution came not solely from his considerable intelligence and intellectual skills but also from his kindly and unpretentious demeanor and spirit in dealing with students, colleagues and others.

Don & Betty Kirkham
Don Kirkham (1908-1998), inspired and supported in an unparalleled unselfish way by his wife Betty, was an exceptional man. He influenced in the past century, more than anybody else, developments in the field of soil physics.

Students, friends, colleagues, family, and the Soil Science Society of America decided to commemorate this unique couple in a lasting way. Shortly after Don's death in 1998, they established the Don and Betty Kirkham Soil Physics Award and the Kirkham Conference, programs  within the Soil Science Society of America, as a permanent tribute to this unforgettable couple.

From the beginning, Don Nielsen, from the University of California in Davis, and a student of Don Kirkham, has been a key driver behind the realization of the quadrennial Conferences. Rienk van der Ploeg, professor of soil physics at the University of Hannover, Germany, also had a major influence through establishment of the Lena and Maria van der Ploeg Fund in memory of his late sister, Lena, and in honour of his wife, Maria. The late Dr van der Ploeg established this permanent endowment to recognize scholarship in soil physics, and it is used to support the Kirkham Conferences.


Kirkham Award

The Don and Betty Kirkham Soil Physics Award is designed to recognize a mid-career soil scientist who has made outstanding contributions in the areas of soil physics. This award is supported by the Lena and Maria van der Ploeg Fund and the Don and Betty Kirkham Fund. Both of these funds have been established in the Agronomic Science Foundation (ASF) with the selection process administered by the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA).The award consists of a certificate and a $1000 honorarium. Online Submission>>

The Lena and Maria van der Ploeg Fund and the Kirkham Fund
Rienk R. van der Ploeg, professor of soil physics at the University of Hannover, Germany, established the Lena and Maria van der Ploeg Fund in memory of his late sister, Lena, and in honor of his wife, Maria. Dr. van der Ploeg established this permanent endowment to recognize scholarship in soil physics, presenting a check to the Agronomic Science Foundation (ASF) at the 1997 Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) annual meeting in Anaheim, CA.

The endowment, along with the Kirkham Fund, supports two programs; first, the Don and Betty Kirkham Soil Physics Award. This award is presented annually at the SSSA meeting to recognize a mid-career scientist who has made both outstanding scholarly achievements and educational contributions to advance soil physics. Awardees receive a certificate of achievement and a $1,000 US honorarium. In addition, the four most recent awardees help select the theme of the quadrennial Kirkham Conference.

Second, the endowment supports the Kirkham Conference series. Kirkham Conferences are by-invitation conferences focusing on a topic of particular interest in soil physics. Their off-the-record forum encourages scientists to explore disciplinary and interdisciplinary topics in a depth seldom possible at national or international meetings. The first Kirkham Conference was held in November 2000 at Iowa State University, immediately prior to the SSSA meeting in Minneapolis, and the second is scheduled for November 2004 at Utah State University. Additional conferences are planned every four years.

Both the Lena and Maria van der Ploeg Fund and the Kirkham Fund are managed by the Agronomic Science Foundation. More than 100 friends and professionals have supported the funds. For a limited time, gifts of $1000 US will be matched by Don and Joanne Nielsen. Financial contributions to these efforts can be made by clicking here.


Kirkham Conferences

The Kirkham Conferences are topical meetings to encourage scientists to make organized, in-depth explorations of disciplinary and interdisciplinary subjects of soil physics in ways seldom possible at national, or international meetings.

These conferences are held every four years and can be held almost anywhere in the world, preferably in coordination with a related national or international meeting. Each conference focuses on a special topic and provides timely debate and development of newly emerging research ideas and inquiries. Attendance is generally fewer than 50 people. View more about the Kirkham Conferences>>

Scope & Objectives
Provide timely impetus to the development of newly emerging critical research.
Bring together active researchers in soil physics and related sciences to promote debate and interaction.
Enable participants to exchange ideas during the course of the meeting regarding the continued evolution of programs that enhance, develop and communicate knowledge of soil physics and its application to the global environment.

Kirkham Conferences are completely off-the-record. Written papers shall not be required; speakers shall not be quoted; and the recording of lectures by tapes, etc., and the photography of slides are prohibited. All steps possible should be taken to promote completely free discussion among participants. The outcome of the conference shall be publicized only in broad outline.
Conferences should be planned to serve a real and valid need not now filled by other technical meetings. Reporting new, unpublished and even incomplete concepts and results should be encouraged.
Conferences should be devoted to soil physics topics in which experiment, theory and application are of major importance, and they should not only educate but also stimulate further discussion and innovation.

In all fields of society jumps in progress have been realized through the accomplishments of exceptional men and women. It is appropriate that society honors and thanks people like Don Kirkham. The discipline, numerous individuals, and society have profited from his wisdom, energy, and charity. It was the desire of all those who took part in the establishment of the Kirkham Conferences that these meetings foster soil physics, and inspire future generations of soil physicists in the spirit, and in the memory of Don and Betty Kirkham".

A meeting of some key players in the development of the Kirkham Conference. Left to right: Bob Horton, Don Kirkham (front), Don Nielsen, and Rienk van der Ploeg.

Don Kirkham flanked by (left to right): Bob Horton, Don Nielsen, and Rienk van der Ploeg