UDP Diana Wall receives 2015 Ulysses Medal

Diana H. Wall, University Distinguished Professor and director of the School of Global Environmental Sustainability at Colorado State University, has been awarded the University College of Dublin’s highest honor, the Ulysses Medal.

The medal is awarded annually to individuals whose work has made an outstanding global contribution.  It was inaugurated in 2005, as part of the University College’s sesquicentennial celebrations, to highlight the “creative brilliance” of UCD alumnus James Joyce, and named for his famous novel.

Previous recipients include former U.S. President Bill Clinton; world-leading intellectual and political activist Noam Chomsky; Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney; Irish playwright Brian Friel; American philosopher Hilary Putnam; and founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab.

“I am extremely honored to be included in such an august group of recipients, all of whom are noted for their contributions at a global scale,” said Wall, professor of biology and senior researcher in the Natural Resources Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State. “The award shows that there is increasing recognition that we can’t breathe, eat, drink or be healthy without sustainably managing soils and their hidden biodiversity.”

30 years benefiting society

In conferring the Ulysses Medal on Dr. Wall on June 16, UCD Professor Joe Carthy cited her 30 years of research in the Antarctic on how biodiversity contributes to productive soils and thus benefits society, and the consequences of human activities on soil sustainability.

“Her earliest work on nematodes in desert, prairie and arctic regions not alone described the soil fauna in those regions but also examined their responses to climate, particularly rainfall patterns, and their contributions to ecosystem services — topics which did not enter the public consciousness until the 1990s when the potential effects of the massive rates of species extinction due to human activities were realized,” Carthy said. “She has been a vocal and prolific contributor to the debates relating biodiversity to ecosystem function and has been one of a group of highly influential scientists whose opinions are regularly published in international journals and listened to by policy makers.”

Carthy described Wall as “a passionate soil ecologist and environmental scientist who has devoted her research career to raising the awareness of the importance of soil biology.” He also cited Wall’s “generous support for colleagues from around the world. She has been an untiring advocate for the discipline of soil biology since its formation at UCD and our faculty.”

She sits on one of the five Working Groups of the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), and is also a member of the UNESCO International Hydrological Program U.S. National Committee.

Latest in a string of honors

The Ulysses Medal is the latest in a string of honors for Diana Wall and her work. She is a National Associate of the National Academy of Sciences and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences and the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, a member of the U.S. Standing Committee on Life Sciences for the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) and the recipient of the 2012 SCAR President’s Medal for Excellence in Antarctic Research. She was honored by The British Ecological Society as the 2011 Tansley Lecturer; in 2013 received the Tyler Laureate for Environmental Achievement; and in 2014 was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Wall has also received the highest honor awarded by the Soil Science Society of America and was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in the class of 2014. Wall Valley in the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica was named in her honor in 2004.

“We at Colorado State are all immensely proud of Dr. Wall,” said CSU President Tony Frank.  “Diana is an inspirational scientist and educator who has transformed our understanding of global climate change and environmental sustainability. It seems fitting that one of the most respected environmental scientists of our age would be honored with the prestigious Ulysses Medal, which recognizes individuals whose work has made an outstanding global contribution.”

June 16 is also known as Bloomsday, the day on which all the events in Joyce’s Ulysses take place, and it has become synonymous with the great 20th century author. It is also the most important honors day at University College of Dublin.