St Petersburg University has held the 24th Dokuchaev Conference for Young Scientists online. The conference focused on how to make soil science more digital.

The youth conference started traditionally on the day when Vasily Dokuchaev, the founder of soil science in Russia, was born. 2021 marks the 175th anniversary of the scientist. He worked at the University for over 25 years.

‘At St Petersburg University, Vasily Dokuchaev founded the science concerned with soil. Today it is at the very core of life itself. The Dokuchaev’s school, no doubt, originated in the Assembly Hall of the Twelve Collegia in 1883 where the scientist defended his thesis «The Russian Chernozem». It gave us a new understanding of what soil was and what role it played in our life,’ said Boris Aparin, Professor at St Petersburg University and Research Supervisor of the the V.V. Dokuchaev Central Museum of Soil.

The works by Dokuchaev will be always up-to-date, said Professor Aparin.

Like Mendeleev’s Periodic Law, the fundamentals formulated by Dokuchaev are inexhaustible. What we have to do today is to formulate them mathematically. This is a challenge for young researchers.

Boris Aparin, Professor at St Petersburg University and Research Supervisor of the V.V. Dokuchaev Central Museum of Soil

The Director of the Institute of Earth Sciences at St Petersburg University Kirill Chistiakov agreed with Professor Aparin and added that the Dokuchaev Conference for Young Scientists’ was a unique phenomenon in science. ‘The conference is magic as it reveals what science can discover and what we can gain from being able to communicate with each other. Like the Dokuchaev’s school, the conference brings together researchers of different generations and ways of thinking. It focuses on the key issues we are facing today. All knowledge we have gained so far is converted into the big arrays of data. Evidently, the Dokuchaev’s Conference follows this tendency. Although we are increasingly exposed to more new digital technologies, soil science remains the fundamental science and generates new knowledge,’ said Mr Chistiakov.

Sergei Shoba, President of the Dokuchaev’s Society of Soil Scientists and President of the Faculty of Soil Science at Moscow State University, addressed his welcoming speech to the participants of the youth conference as did other leading scientists and directors of the research institutes from Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

At the plenary session, the President of the International Union of Soil Sciences Laura Bertha Reyes Sánchez, Mexica, spoke about the educational projects developed by the Union in the digital society.

We need to be able to respond promptly to rapid changes across the world. It is among the high priorities in soil science. Soil is what is at the very core of life itself and food safety. Soil degradation will lead to destroying biodiversity on the planet and poses a global threat to the food chains.

President of the International Union of Soil Sciences Laura Bertha Reyes Sánchez

‘The world’s population is over 7 billion. Most of us are far from being aware that preserving the integrity of topsoil should be a very high priority with us. The International Union of Soil Sciences is facing a big challenge, i.e. to make the world know what soil degradation may lead to,’ said Professor Sánchez.

The conferences worked in five areas: ‘Soil in changing conditions of the environment’; ‘Information technologies in soil science’; ‘Soil resources and rational use’; ‘Soil as a multifunctional system’; ‘Agrochemistry and harvest in numbers’. The participants of the Dokuchaev Conference for Young Scientists’ were early-career researchers from Russia and neighbouring countries.

A special focus was a school session ‘Soil — Life’. The youngest participants presented the results of their first research endeavours. They focused primarily on the current issues in soil science ranging from assessing salinity pollution to describing microbial succession.