Betty and Isaac Barshad Endowed Chair in Soil Science
This endowed Chair in Soil Science is the result of the generosity of the late Betty and Isaac Barshad. This page provides a brief overview of some aspects of their lives, and their connection to the University and to soil science.
Isaac Barshad was born December 14, 1913 to Yoel and Zipora Malka Barshad in what was then Palestine. Isaac immigrated to the United States to join a brother in New York, and soon set off for UC Berkeley where he earned a BS in Agricultural Science (1936), an MS in Soil Science (1939), and a PhD in Soil Science in 1944 under the direction of Professor Hans Jenny. It was in Berkeley where Dr. Barshad met and married his wife Betty.
Dr. Barshad held the position of Specialist and Lecturer within the College of Agriculture. He was appointed to this position in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s by Professor Jenny during the time he was Chair of Soils and Plant Nutrition, which was a daring step because the college administration at this time was highly anti-semitic, according to Jenny’s personal history.
Isaac is best known for his studies of the influence of climate on soil clay mineralogy and, his work on a climate transect of soil samples collected with Hans Jenny, which Jenny reported on in his famous 1968 paper that was critical to the first quantitative verification of the state factor equation. Barshad’s careful X-ray diffraction work on soil minerals showed, for the first time, the systematic ways in which soil minerals form and respond to variations in climate and to the underlying geology. Under his guidance, soil mineralogy became a quantitative soil property useful for, among other things, probing the climatic history of soils and landscapes.
In a letter to Professor Garrison Sposito, the first holder of the Barshad Chair, Isaac’s daughter Evaah recounted her field excursions with her father:
“Your last (letter) about Hans Jenny brought back a lot of memories. Isaac took me along on many of his soil sample expeditions. I was a strong hiker and loved those treks into the wilderness. Hans Jenny came on several of them…They mean a lot – and now my grand kids are old enough to connect and understand what grand Pa did.”
Barshad’s work has seen a new application when it was re-discovered by researchers trying to deduce the history of mineral weathering by water on Mars.
Betty Barshad died in 1996, and Isaac Barshad died on February 18, 2003 at the age of 89. It is hoped that this short biography serves as testament to their generosity, Isaac’s scientific contributions, and to some of the cultural challenges that Dr. Barshad endured. This Chair provides financial support for research and graduate student support in the present Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management within the Rausser College of Natural Resources. Barshad’s daughter Evaah wrote to Professor Sposito about the importance of the Chair to her family and to society:
“I can’t express how happy your letter made me feel, to know that my mom’s and dad’s Chair is doing such great and inspiring work for our planet Earth. It makes me hopeful that the “we’re all going to hell in a handbasket” theory of Mother Earth isn’t so.”
by Garrison Sposito and Ron Amundson