PhD profile: Sasha Pollet, Soil Science
Sept. 6, 2023 – PhD student Sasha Pollet lights up when she talks about the role of soil in our ecosystem.
“When I was an undergraduate in Belgium (University of Liege), I had an insightful introduction to Soil Science course and it literally blew my mind! Soil is very complex and exists with many components. Everything is linked to soil – it helps sustain life on Earth and human society.”
Pollet has already made inroads in research on the topic of soils. Most recently, she was part of a group that studied the effects of biochar on organisms living within the soil. They focused on springtails, wingless arthropods that can be as small as 2mm in size, that have a forked springing organ.
Her group concluded that land-use, such as forest, cropland and grassland, had a bigger impact than century-old biochar in providing the right soil conditions for springtail communities to thrive. They published results in the journal Soil Biology and Biochemistry and this led Pollet to receive a recent 2023 Warkentin Prize, which rewards young scientists who publish a referred article or graduate thesis. The prize is named for Benno Warkentin who was an international scholar in soil science.
In another study, she investigated lianas – plants rooted in the ground that intertwine with trees as they grow upwards – commonly found in tropical climates. Pollet was part of a group of researchers using drone-based sensing, and very high-resolution data for the first time to compare aerial measurements with traditional ground-based ones.
Pollet is early in her PhD studies working under the joint supervision of Dr. Jean-Thomas Cornelis in UBC’s SoilRes3 Lab, and Dr. Guillaume Lobet from Belgium-based Université catholique de Louvain. The initial soil science course that sparked her excitement was taught by Dr. Cornelis, so when he moved to UBC, she decided to eventually join him in Canada to pursue her doctoral studies.
She loves living in Vancouver and being outdoors as much as possible.
“I am a big outdoors fan and I love climbing, skiing, and hiking. Almost every weekend, I try to get outside.”
To support her move to UBC, Pollet won a 4-year fellowship from UBC LFS, and the prestigious Wallonia Brussels International (WBI) World Excellence Fellowships in Belgium.
Pollet has done research in Belgium, France, Mexico and Canada. In her PhD studies, she aims to understand complex soil-root-plant interactions and the role of roots in acquiring nutrients and storing carbon in the soil. Pollet wants to develop an integrative research approach that can be scaled up to maintain crop production while reducing the need for fertilizers and increasing soil-plant resiliency to climate change.
“No one really speaks about soil and most people call it dirt! It’s important in producing our food, recycling nutrients, purifying water, and for biodiversity. Soil is home to more than 50% of all species on Earth!”
Dr. Cornelis says the goal of his research group at UBC’s SoilRes3 Lab is to maximize the ecological benefits associated with soil processes and soil-plant feedback to increase the resiliency of cultivated lands: “This requires holistic perspectives and community approaches. I am so stoked to see how Sasha’s worldview and dedication to embrace the complexity of soil-human-ecosystem interactions is moving our idea the right direction.”