Forces of Change

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Explorers
Patrick Megonigal

Patrick Megonigal

Curator and Soil Ecologist, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Pat Megonigal is one of many scientists at the Smithsonian Institution who study soils to understand topics ranging from soil critters to climate change to ancient cultures. He enjoys working and playing in swamps and marshes, and agrees with Dennis the Menace that "Dirt's a lot more fun when you add water!"

How did you come to love soils?

I grew up camping and learned to love forests, marshes, deserts, and other wild places. I fell in love with soils later when I learned that they are the most important part of these beautiful and fascinating ecosystems. There wouldn't be a forest or wetland to camp in without the soil beneath the landscape.

Why is dirt more fun when you add water?

There is an amazing world of microorganisms that can live in wet soils where there is no oxygen. Some even "breathe" or respire rust! These microbes cause exotic colors in soils like blue and green.

What is your favorite memory of the Dig It exhibit?

It was watching visitors enjoy the exhibit once it opened. A favorite moment was when a teenager said, "I had no idea soils were so different - how weird!"