Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance hosts first conference

May 24, 2017

As agribusiness grows to feed an increasing global population, so do concerns about the sustainability of current agricultural practices.

The use of phosphorus in big agriculture is one such practice that has come under the microscope of sustainability experts. The element is a common ingredient in plant fertilizer and animal feed and is an essential building block for life, however, an overabundance of phosphorus can leak toxins into the environment. Attendees heard from leading scientists on the latest studies concerning phosphorus pollution and participated in panel discussions regarding key issues around sustainable uses of the precious element. Download Full Image

Researchers have long been aware of the environmental issues that phosphorus waste causes, but it has been difficult to get a handle on them because the issues occur at every point on the phosphorus supply chain.

“It is somewhat analogous to the problems with carbon dioxide pollution. There is pollution at every step and in order to deal with it effectively you have to get everyone at the table,” said Matthew Scholz, a sustainability scientist and the program manager of the newly formed Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance (SPA).

The SPA's first conference, "Phosphorus Forum 2017hosted in Washington D.C. on May 19, drew more than 100 individuals and 70 organizations. It is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and its member organizations. They come from across the phosphorus value chain from mining companies to crop consultants, agricultural retailers, wastewater treatment plants and animal feeding operations. 

Attendees heard from leading scientists on the latest studies concerning phosphorus pollution and participated in panel discussions regarding key issues around sustainable uses of the precious element. Scholz's goal for the conference is to get the word out that they are here and ready to bring all interested parties to the table for collaboration.

The “pollution supply chain,” as Scholz likes to call it, begins with the phosphorus mines. The mines generate phosphorus waste, which is left to be washed away and eventually infiltrates our ground water. Processed phosphorus is then added directly to our soil through fertilizer or indirectly through livestock waste. This too eventually filters into our waterways, polluting them with toxins.

There is also a secondary effect of high levels of phosphorus in our water. It can feed algal blooms and lead to a dangerous process called eutrophication, where the algae become so prevalent that it exhausts the oxygen content of a body of water, resulting in the death of animal life within that body of water. The rotting organisms lead to an explosion of bacteria and other health hazards.

Scholz and the SPA are working to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders in the phosphorus and agribusiness industries to set better standards for sustainable use of the element.

“We are moving from the research phase into the implementation of real world solutions for phosphorus sustainability issues,” he said. “We hope to improve phosphorus sustainability by advancing measures that improve the efficiency of its use, that recovers it after use to prevent pollution, and that recycle it for repeated use.”

The SPA wants to make the Phosphorus Forum an annual conference with a goal of launching task forces to aide in the cross cross-pollinationeas across different points of the phosphorus value chain.

Written by Gavin Maxwell/ASU

Joe Caspermeyer

Manager (natural sciences), Media Relations & Strategic Communications


Musicology professor wins prestigious Berlin Prize fellowship

May 25, 2017

Peter Schmelz, an associate professor in ASU's School of Music, has been named a recipient of the prestigious Berlin Prize, a semester-long fellowship in Berlin awarded annually to top-tier scholars, writers and artists from the United States. Schmelz is the third faculty member from Arizona State University to be honored with this fellowship.

Schmelz is among 22 recipients announced May 10 by the American Academy in Berlin who represent “the highest standards of excellence in their fields,” the academy said.

“We are thrilled that the American Academy in Berlin has recognized the outstanding contributions that Peter Schmelz is making to the field of musicology and the humanities with the coveted Berlin Prize,” said Heather Landes, director of the School of Music in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “This award is a testament to the significance and impact of Schmelz’s scholarly work, and we look forward to the results of his stay in Berlin.” ASU School of Music faculty Peter Schmelz Peter Schmelz, associate professor in the School of Music Download Full Image

Schmelz’s areas of expertise include 20th and 21st-century music; Russian, Ukrainian and Soviet music, and music in the Cold War. He is currently completing a book on polystylism as cultural practice in the late USSR, focusing on the music of Alfred Schnittke and Valentin Silvestrov, and he recently won an ASCAP Foundation Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Award, which honors outstanding print, broadcast and new media coverage of music, for an article on Silvestrov’s Symphony No. 5.

“I am very excited and grateful to have the opportunity to live in Berlin at the American Academy,” Schmelz said of the Berlin Prize. “Because of the strong currents of opposition today to both the European Union and to an outward-facing, globally-engaged United States, institutions like the American Academy that foster transnational dialogue are more important than ever.”

During his time in Berlin, Schmelz will be researching a book that considers unofficial networks of musical exchange during the Cold War between Russia, Ukraine and West Germany. His previous research has focused on the music of the Soviet Union, including the significant roles it played both at home and abroad during the Cold War.

“Over the past few years my work has moved toward Germany and Ukraine, partly spurred by contemporary events, notably those events associated with the Maidan protests of 2013-14 in Kyiv,” Schmelz said. “My new topic also engages with other issues very much in the news today, among them the functions of non-state actors in international affairs, and the crucial importance of information in both official and unofficial diplomacy.”

Since the inception of the Berlin Prize in 1998, the Berlin Academy has become one of Europe’s most visible and effective institutions of cross-cultural dialogue and has established a widespread and long-lasting network for the critical exchange of ideas necessary in today’s world.