Xin Zhang recognized for outstanding research in sustainability and nutrient management in global agriculture

April 19, 2024

FROSTBURG, MD (April 19, 2024)—University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) Associate Professor Xin Zhang has received a 2024 Excellence in Scholarship or Research Award, the highest honor that the University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents bestows to recognize exemplary faculty achievement. Working from UMCES’ Appalachian Laboratory, Zhang is recognized for her highly cited research in sustainability and nutrient management, which has helped governments and nonprofits around the world to respond to climate change, create water security, and improve nutrient management in agriculture.

"Dr. Zhang has exhibited an outstanding ability to provide clarity in messy socio-environmental systems, develop rigorous methodologies to assess environmental, social and economic status, and then communicate findings effectively," said UMCES Interim President, William Dennison. "I regard Dr. Zhang as one of the most influential and important researchers that I have encountered in my long career in environmental science."

Zhang, an environmental scientist whose research focuses on data for sustainable agriculture, is an expert at quantifying and communicating the status of agricultural systems. Her research focuses on the socioeconomic and biogeochemical processes that affect the global nutrient cycle and the sustainability of agriculture.

Since 2020, Zhang has secured more than $11 million in research funding, published 36 peer-reviewed articles, and initiated two transdisciplinary and transnational research networks. She has received numerous awards that demonstrate both her commitment and expertise to sustainable agriculture and nutrient management. As the principal investigator, Zhang received four highly competitive grants from the National Science Foundation. Another award was given for comparing and contrasting policies and progress in nutrient use efficiency in the U.S. and China. The most recent award was $5 million given to develop and implement a Global Nitrogen Innovation Center for Clean Energy and the Environment to address the opportunities and challenges of the use of green ammonia.

"Xin's research sits at the critical nexus of human and natural systems, aiming to improve agricultural sustainability in the face of climate change, which is one of the most perplexing challenges facing society," said David Nelson, Director of UMCES’ Appalachian Laboratory. "Xin’s career already rivals the best in the environmental sciences, despite having only received her Ph.D. a little over a decade ago."

A highly regarded piece of Zhang’s research is her work for the Sustainable Agriculture Matrix (SAM). Through Zhang’s coordination of a highly interdisciplinary team of experts, SAM was organized to develop indicators on a national scale to measure sustainable agriculture from environmental, economic, and social dimensions. This project is among the first of its kind to develop the illustrative components into measurable indicators. SAM has served as a platform to engage conversations among stakeholders involved in agriculture and to forge positive changes towards sustainability.

"Dr. Zhang's research addresses a crucial global issue facing the world today—how to make agriculture sustainable as global populations grow, affluence rises, and the world strives to reduce its impact on climate, all while maximizing nutritious yields on limited land and minimizing associated environmental impacts," said UMCES Professor, Eric Davidson.

Zhang completed her Ph.D. in environmental studies at Yale University in 2012. She holds an M.A. in Environmental Science from Peking University, a B.S. in Environmental Science, and a B.S. in Computer Science from Ocean University of China.

The Board of Regents Faculty Awards publicly recognizes distinguished performance by educators and researchers within the USM. Award categories include collaboration, mentoring, public service, teaching, research, scholarship, and creative activity. This year’s awards were given by the Chancellor and Board of Regents Chairman at the Board of Regents meeting at Bowie State University.

UMCES is renowned for its groundbreaking research on coastal and terrestrial ecosystems and boasts many globally eminent faculty scholars. Zhang joins an impressive group of UMCES Faculty Members who have received Regents Faculty Awards, including Eric Schott, Jeffrey Cornwell, Mario Tamburri, Russell Hill, Tom Miller, Andrew Elmore, Keith Eshleman, Patricia Glibert, Rose Jagus, Rodger Harvey, Ed Houde, Michael Kemp, Tom Malone, Margaret Palmer, Allen Place, David Secor, and Diane Stoecker.


The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science leads the way toward better management of Maryland’s natural resources and the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. From a network of laboratories located across the state, our scientists provide sound advice to help state and national leaders manage the environment and prepare future scientists to meet the global challenges of the 21st century. 

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