Science Exploration Series: Phosphorus, Food, and Our Future


Location: 101 Jordan Hall of Science (View on map )

250x250 Elser3

250x250 Elser3

Did you know that during your lifetime you’ll consume more than 75 pounds of phosphorus in your food and drink, and use it to build not only your bones but also your DNA? Learn from U.S. National Academy of Sciences member Jim Elser, Ph.D., (ND '81, B.S. Biological Sciences), how this fascinating element is a driver both of the Green Revolution and of widespread water pollution, and therefore holds a key to unlocking a sustainable future for our food and water.

James Elser is Bierman Professor of Ecology of the University of Montana and since March 2016 has been Director of UM’s Flathead Lake Biological Station at Yellow Bay.  He also holds a part-time research faculty position in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University.  Trained as a limnologist, Elser is best known for his role in developing and testing the theory of ecological stoichiometry, the study of the balance of energy and multiple chemical elements in ecological systems.  

Currently, Elser's research focuses most intensively on Flathead Lake as well as mountain lakes of western Montana and western China. Specific studies involve observational and experimental studies at various scales, including laboratory cultures, short-term field experiments and sustained whole-ecosystem manipulations.  Previous field sites have included the Experimental Lakes Area in Ontario, Canada; lakes of the Arctic and of Patagonia; lakes, forests, and grasslands of the upper Midwest; and desert springs in Mexico's Chihuahuan Desert. 

In recognition of his research accomplishments, in 2019 Elser was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.  He has also been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as well as a foreign member of the Norwegian Academy of Arts and Sciences.  In 2012 Elser received the G.E. Hutchinson Award of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO), the world's largest scientific association dedicated to aquatic sciences.

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