2019 Rydell Professorship

Dr. David Montgomery

Dr. Montgomery was at Gustavus in the spring of 2019 from mid-March through mid-May. He taught a course of telling the story of science that is built upon his experience of writing on scientific topics for a general public audience. He also met with several other classes, high school groups, and alumni groups.

David Montgomery

David Montgomery is Professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, and a 2008 recipient of a MacArthur fellowship. His interests lie at the intersection of the solid earth--the rocky crust beneath our feet-- and the ever-changing processes that sculpt its surfaces. He asks questions about the Earth’s surface from the perspective of one who has studies long stretches of geologic time. Montgomery is interested in the ways by which processes at the Earth’s surface (geomorphology) influence the life that depends on that surface.

His interests in soil go back more than a decade, to the publication of his book Dirt: the Erosion of Civilization, which explored the human history of mining the soil to feed a population, with the almost-inevitable consequences. Tucked alongside the many stories of societies’ booms and busts, Montgomery inserts a few hopeful notes; examples that suggest there are ways to shepherd soil resources so as to avoid catastrophe. He builds on that hopefulness in Growing a Revolution: Bringing our Soil Back to Life and in The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health, co-authored with Anne Biklé. The take-home message: the Earth and its soil are complex and alive. Soil is a resource--a scarce one--but it is alive as well.

Montgomery is a frequent contributor to public conversations about science. In addition to his books written for a popular audience, he has been featured in documentary films, news shows, and a wide variety of television and radio programs, from NOVA to Fox and Friends.

Dr. Montgomery is serving as the 2019 Rydell Professor, a scholar-in-residence program at Gustavus Adolphus College.


The Rydell Professorship at Gustavus Adolphus College is a scholar-in-residence program designed to bring Nobel laureates and similarly distinguished scholars to the campus as catalysts to enhance learning and teaching. The Rydell Professorship was established in 1993 by Drs. Robert E. and Susan T. Rydell to give students the opportunity to learn from and interact with leading scholars.