Udo Schwertmann died on January 20th, 2016 at the age of 88.
Udo Schwertmann was born 1927, November 27th in Stade, Germany. He studied horticulture and chemistry in Hannover. He obtained his Ph. D. in 1959 and his habilitation in 1961, both in soil science, also in Hannover. In 1962, he was a Fulbright Scholar and carried out research in the laboratory of M.L. Jackson at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 1964 he became a full professor and head of the Institute of Soil Science at the Technical University of Berlin. In 1969, he moved to Freising-Weihenstephan, as head of the newly founded Institute of Soil Science at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). He held this position until his retirement in 1995.
Udo Schwertmann’s scientific achievements span a vast range. We have certainly to commemorate his work on the occurrence formation and identification of iron oxides in soils, but also his work in soil clay mineralogy, soil erosion, phosphorous in soil, cation adsorption, and soil acidity. He first described the structure, formation and properties of the mineral „Schwertmannite“ named after him by the International Mineralogical Association. Udo Schwertmann has published more than 200 research papers, numerous book chapters and several monographs. Udo Schwertmann’s 1964 publication on the extraction of poorly crystalline iron oxide minerals from soils with oxalate is the reference for investigating these minerals in soil science laboratories around the world. “The Iron Oxides”, together with R. Cornell is still the seminal book on this topic.
Udo Schwertmann always insisted that soil science does not only mean to describe macroscopic phenomena but to derive a complete understanding of properties and processes at the microscopic level. This meant that understanding soils had to be based on rigorous physics and chemistry. In this way he has given a new meaning to the word soil science in Germany, being an example for a whole generation of younger soil scientists. But Udo Schwertmann also initiated research to make these results fruitful for the understanding of processes occurring at more integrated levels, up to the landscape level in agricultural ecosystems. Maybe his believe could be phrased as: „Without an understanding of the processes at the level of the iron oxide or clay mineral there is no understanding of the processes at the level of the landscape.“
Udo Schwertmann was a scientific leader and served on the editorial bord of several soil science and clay mineralogy journals and many advisory boards. His activities included service as Vice-President of the German Soil Science Society, Chairman of Commission VII of the International Society of Soil Science, and General Secretary and Vice-President of the Association Internationale pour l'Etude des Argiles (AIPEA). He is a former editor of Zeitschrift für Pflanzenernährung und Bodenkunde and has been a member of the editorial boards of Clay Minerals, Clays and Clay Minerals, Advances in Soil Science, and Geoderma.
Udo Schwertmann received numerous scientific awards. He became a Fellow of the American Society of Soil Science 1992 and a member of the „Akademie der Naturforscher“ Leopoldina zu Halle, the oldest German Academy of Science. The Clay Mineral Society has appointed him „pioneer in clay science“ in 1992 and a distinguished member in 1997. In 1995 he received a honorary doctorate from the Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel in Germany. In 2005 he was awarded the Philippe-Duchaufour-medal of the European Geophysical Union „for outstanding research in the field of fundamental and applied soil science, with special emphasis on his contributions to soil mineralogy and genesis”.
Udo Schwertmann’s legacy is forever connected with our understanding of the formation and properties of iron oxides in soils.
Ingrid Kögel-Knabner, Freising-Weihenstephan, January 23, 2016