Meet the Lab

Dr. Carmen Ugarte and Dr. Michelle Wander

Lead Investigators
Dr. Carmen Ugarte & Dr. Michelle Wander

Carmen is motivated to understand how agricultural management practices influence land stewardship. For this, she works at various scales investigating the influence of management practices on soil function seen through the lenses of biological, physical, and chemical indicators. She has a keen interest in investigating soil fauna and their contributions to ecosystem services. She, ultimately, aims to use her research outputs to support the adoption of stewardship practices and the development of sound policies for the agricultural sector.

Michelle is interested in agroecology, agricultural sustainability, soil conservation, and alternative soil testing methods. She is the Director of the Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture Program. She studies the influence of management on soil organic matter and system performance with emphasis on nutrient cycling, plant-soil relations, and physical protection of organic matter. 

For more information about our backgrounds, please follow the links to our websites.

Current Members

Binod Ghimire

Binod joined the Soil Ecology Lab after completing MS degrees at New Mexico State University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.   

For his Ph.D. research, he is evaluating the relationships between management practices, indicators of labile soil organic matter, and crop productivity. He is interested in understanding how nitrogen fertility and corn genotype alter the carbon and nitrogen cycle in organic grain cropping systems.

Daniela Pope

Daniela Pope

Daniela Pope is a master’s student. After completing her undergraduate degree in Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Illinois. Coming from Chicago, IL, agriculture wasn’t a prominent career option, but from my experiences in the field, witnessing the physical effects on land management in all its aspects solidified her love for agricultural stewardship. Currently, Daniela studies the application of various forms of biomedical imaging of soil cores for the estimation of bulk and hydraulic properties as well as the quantification of particulate organic matter (POM), a key soil health indicator. The ability to relate 3D descriptors of soil architecture with key metrics such as Plant Available Water and POM can generate more robust data on soil-water-organic matter interactions to better understand these mechanisms.

Mario Nunez

Mario Nunez

Mario Nunez is a master’s student, originally from Honduras. Mario came with a background in row crop systems and grain seed production, which motivated him to study plant-soil dynamics. He is deeply passionate about soil science; he has a keen interest in the rhizosphere to explore its role in carbon storage, resource use efficiency, and productivity. In his project, he studies the influence of woody perennial polycultures, a form of agroforestry systems, on soil carbon stocks in temperate regions. In the future, he aspires to contribute to the development of environmentally responsible, cost-effective, and efficient management practices that benefit farmers.

Michael Nowicki

Michael Nowicki is a master’s student with an undergraduate degree in Agricultural and Biological Engineering. His work has been centered on developing methods for rapid quantification of particulate organic matter.

In the future, he hopes to help build sensors that inform decision-support tools for improved soil management. 

Sofia Gonzalez

Sofia Gonzalez

Sofia Gonzalez is a Panamanian visiting scholar in the Soil Ecology Lab. She has a strong interest in connecting her research with that of other scientists in her region. She has been gaining experience in laboratory procedures and data processing as well as in field-related activities.

Her research interests expand to study root responses to abiotic stresses, and the influence of management on soil moisture dynamics. In the short term, she is exploring opportunities to continue with her graduate studies at Illinois. 

Gallery of Alums

This list is not complete. If you aren’t here and should be please get in touch!