Russell, Edward John
RUSSELL, EDWARD JOHN
b. Frampton-on Severn Gloucestershire, England 31 October 1872; d. Goring-on-Thamas, Oxfordshire, England, 12 July 1965)
agriculatural chemistry. agronomy.
Born into a poor family, Russell was encouraged to obtain an education by his father, a schoolmaster and Unitarian minister. He studied at the University College of Wales at Aberystwyth and in 1894–1896 at Owens College (now part of the Victoria University of Manchester), receiving the B.Sc. in chemistry in 1896. For his research work at Owens College on the combustion rates of gases, he received the D.Sc. from London University in 1901. In 1900 he became interested in the chemistry of microorganisms.
The plight of Manchester slum dwellers gave Russell the idea of establishing them on agricultural settlements. In 1901–1907 he taught at the Wye Agricultural College, where, at first, he wished to gain the requisite training to implement his idea. Although obliged to give up the scheme as impractical, Russell obtained a sound knowledge of farm problems and introduced the latest science into his agricultural courses, which formed the basis of his highly significant Soil Conditions and Plant Growth (1912). While studying soil oxidations, he found to his surprise that partial stertilization would increase soil productiveness.
In 1901 Russell joined the world-renowned Rothamsted Experimental Station, Herfordshire, where, on becoming director in 1912, he led teams of experts in applying science to the improvement of crop production. His research disclosed that partial sterilization of soil samples, by destroying protozoa–their presence hitherto unrecognized—would allow a bacterial incerase, with consequent incearse of nutrients available for plant growth. This discovery represented a new research frontier in soil microbiology, in which Russell was a pioneer, particularly in studying the relationship of nitrate formation to microbial fluctuations, soil gases, and organic debris. In 1917 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.
Adding staff and facilities after World War I enabled Russell to expand the research effectiveness of Rothamsted through an emphasis on soil chemistry, physics, microbiology, plant diseases and pests, and the statistical analysis of data. Laboratory results were verified by extensive field tests.
Through his leadership at Rothamsted, Russell attained international recognition as an agricultural expert. Trips abroad extended his influence on agricultural science: the Sudan in 1923, to improve cotton production; Palestine in 1927–1928, to relate increased agriculture to immigration; the Soviet Union on four occasions; India in 1936–1937 and 1951, to examine research projects—as well as journeys to the Continent and lecture tours of North America, New Zealand, and Australia. Russell’s travels provided the source material for World Population and World Food Supplies (1954), a comprehensive survey of food production capacities and a call for cooperation between the more-and the less advanced countries to meet increasing nutritional requirements.
In 1931 Russell raised sufficient funds to prevent the loss of Rothamsted to real estate developers. His long directorship, which he resigned in 1943, was characterized by focusing on what research would be most beneficial and on a humane understanding of nutritional problems. Russell’ s worldwide influence on agricultural policies was attested by his many honors, including knighthood in 1922 and the gold medal of the Royal Agricultural Society in 1954.
Russell’ s writings include “Influence of the Nascent State on Dry Carbon Monoxide and Oxygen,” Transactions of the Chemical Society,77 (1900), 361–371; “Oxidation in Soils and Its Connection With Fertility,” in Journal of Agricultural Science,1 (1905), 261–279;“The Effect of Partial Sterilization of Soil on the Production of Plant Food,” ibid., 3 (1909), 111–144, written with H. B. Hutchinson; Soil Conditions and Plant Growth (London, 1912, 9th ed., 1961), The Fertility of the Soil (Cambridge, 1913);” The Nature and Amount of the Fluctuations in Nitrate Contents of Arable Soils,” in Journal of Agricultural Science,6 (1914), 18–57; Plant Nutrition and Crop Production (Berkeley–Los Angeles. 1926); Man and the Machine (London, 1931); English Farming (London, 1932); The Farm and the Nation (London, 1933); “Rothamsted and Its Experiment Station,” in Agricultural History,11 (1942), 168–183; “Agriculture in Europe After the War,” in Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England,104 (1943), 151–164;; World Population and World Food Supplies (London, 1954; repr. 1956); Science and Modern Life (London, 1955); The Land Called Me (London, 1956), his autobiography; and A History of agricultural Science in Great Britain (London, 1965).
An obituary is in Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society,12 (1966), 456–477, with complete bibliography.
Richard P. Aulie