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James Elser

ASU life sciences professor receives research achievement award

By

Jason Krell

Arizona State University’s Alumni Association has presented School of Life Sciences Regents’ and Parents Association Professor James Elser with the 2015 Founders’ Day Faculty Achievement Research Award. Elser is also a distinguished sustainability scientist with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, and a faculty member with the ASU Center for Biodiversity Outcomes.

This year’s award honored one ASU faculty member whose research has provided significant advances to preserving the environment on a global scale. Elser, who has made countless contributions to the field of sustainability, continually demonstrates his aptitude as a researcher both in and outside of the lab.

One of Elser’s first major research accomplishments was pioneering "biological stoichiometry" – the study of the energy balance between all the chemical elements in an environment. While he has used the concept mostly in the study of lakes, rivers, streams and other inland water sources, it has applications in other areas of ecology.

More recently, Elser’s research has focused on nutrient pollution and the global phosphorus budget, which has important implications for soil fertilization and food security. At ASU, he helped found the Sustainable P Initiative, which unites biogeochemical, economic, agronomic and socioecological data on phosphorus sustainability. What’s more, Elser frequently brings together scientists from other disciplines, which provides fresh perspectives to older fields and sometimes creates new areas of research altogether.

With research that has such a large scope, Elser is an international figure who shares his expertise and conducts research in countries such as Mexico, Japan, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Argentina, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Italy and China. In addition to his international reputation as a leader in his field, he regularly serves as a mentor to undergraduate and graduate students.

Elser is also a leader on many fronts in his field of limnology – the study of lakes and other bodies of freshwater. He is the current president of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and is a founding leader of the North American Partnership for Phosphorus Sustainability.

The ASU community has honored the university’s founders on Founders’ Day each year for half a century. While the first celebration was held in 1960, Founder’s Day was made into an annual event with awards presentations when the ASU Alumni Association joined the festivities in 1964.

Elser is the sixth School of Life Sciences professor in seven years to win the prestigious award. The ASU Alumni Foundation award was given to professors Charles Perrings in 2009; Nancy Grimm in 2010; Wayne Frasch in 2012; Stephen Pratt in 2013; and Roy Curtiss, III, in 2014. Elser accepted the award on March 5 at the Founders’ Day Awards dinner and gala.