O.N. Allen Professorship

Ethel Allen, seen here in her lab, was an internationally known naturalist and soil microbiologist (source).

As of July 1, 2021, I have been officially appointed to the O.N. Allen Professorship in Soil Microbiology. This five-year professorship is in memory of Oscar N. Allen through a gift from his wife, Ethel K. Allen. I am deeply honored to have been selected by my department to be appointed to this professorship and am excited for this opportunity to pursue fundamental questions in soil macroecology in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea and in honor of the Allen family.

Ethel and Oscar Allen first met and have deep roots at UW-Madison. Ethel earned two UW-Madison degrees: a 1928 bachelor’s degree in botany and a 1930 master’s degree in bacteriology. Oscar Allen earned a PhD from UW-Madison in 1930. After completing their degrees, they moved to the University of Hawaii, then to the University of Maryland, and finally back to UW-Madison in 1943 to serve in the Department of Bacteriology. Ethel and Oscar worked as a team and published more than 40 papers together — mostly about nitrogen-fixing bacteria. This important group of bacteria can naturally bring nitrogen into the soil, where it is often a limiting nutrient. Together, Ethel and Oscar Allen also wrote the de facto “encyclopedia” on nitrogen fixation and legumes – The Leguminosae, a Source Book of Characteristics, Uses and Nodulation. To commemorate her substantial contributions in her field, Ethel received an honorary doctorate from UW-Madison in 1982. I encourage everyone to check out this oral history interview with Ethel Allen from the UW-Madison Oral History Program where she describes in fascinating detail the “completely symbiotic, wonderful, most unusual, and completely unselfish relationship” that Ethel and Oscar Allen shared.

The Allens have been tremendously generous to UW-Madison and CALS. In addition to this professorship, the extreme generosity of the Allens supports several CALS internship grants and merit scholarships, a chair in the department of Plant Pathology, the Allen Centennial Gardens, the Steenbock Library, the Chazen Museum of Art, the School of Nursing, the University League, and the Daughters of Demeter Education Fund, among other causes.

Thank you to Ethel and Oscar Allen for their contributions to the field of soil microbiology and for their generosity to UW-Madison, CALS and the Department of Soil Science. I hope that the Allen family will feel their energy and spirit through the research, training and community building that this professorship will support; I hope to make them proud!