New faculty profile: Inna Popova studies impact of synthetic chemicals on soils

Inna Popova joined the UW–Madison faculty in October 2022 as an assistant professor in the Department of Soil Science.

Where did you grow up?
My hometown is Neryungri, Russia. It is the land of Sakha people, a rare silicate mineral known as Charoite, and lots and lots of snow.

What is your educational/professional background, including your previous position?
I have been trained as a traditional wet chemist but have come to love soil science over the years. Prior to this position, I worked at three land-grant universities in soil, water, and biopesticides research programs.

What is your general area of study/expertise? And how did you get into your field of research?
My area of study is environmental organic chemistry. I find it fascinating that you can zoom in on a single soil particle and be able to tell its chemistry. Soils are extremely complex, and they never cease to amaze me.

What are the main goals of your current research and outreach programs?
The goal of my research program is to understand the impact of synthetic chemicals on natural and agricultural ecosystems. For example, I am interested in the effect of legacy contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls as well as emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals on urban and agricultural soils. My programs will investigate how our soils adapt to the increasing contaminant pressure and what the underlying mechanisms are.

What was your first visit to campus like?
My first visit to the campus was during my interview. It was a beautiful sunny day. The University of Wisconsin-Madison reminded me so much of my alma mater, Moscow State University, that I felt at home right away.  

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?
I hope the students who take my class will come away with a sense of empowerment and a hunger for knowledge.

Do you share your expertise and experiences with the public through social media? If so, which channels do you use?
Yes, I am sharing my expertise and experience as well as exciting news in science on my twitter account @SomeSoilScience.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
Yes, definitely. The impact of my work extends beyond the borders of the campus. Maintaining contaminant-free, productive soil is important for everyone in our state.

The pandemic forced us all to reconsider many things we took for granted. Is there something you’ve learned that has helped you through these challenging times, personally or professionally?
One thing that I learned during the pandemic is that it is very important to offer your help. Some people may be reluctant to ask for help because of stigma and a fear of being perceived as weak and incompetent. Do not just assume that someone is ok. Offer your help regardless. It may make a huge difference in someone’s life.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?
Did you know that each state has its own State Soil?  Antigo silt loam is the official state soil of Wisconsin. Antigo soil even has its own logo and a song.

What are your hobbies and other interests?
I do public art, and I enjoy urban hiking. UW campus has many amazing buildings, ranging from Collegiate Gothic to Brutalist, that are worth exploring.