President Peter Goodwin has awarded the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES)’s annual President’s Award for Excellence in Application of Science to Xin Zhang, associate professor and expert in sustainable agriculture at UMCES’ Appalachian Laboratory, for her outstanding contributions and global leadership in improving understanding of the intersection between food production needs, economic concerns, and the environment.
"Food production is important locally and globally, and the international nature of Xin’s work exemplifies our mission to conduct environmental research that is both locally relevant and globally eminent, said University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) President Peter Goodwin. "Dr. Zhang is a global leader in her field and we are extremely fortunate to have her as part of our community.”
Zhang, an expert in sustainable agriculture, collaborates closely with colleagues in both the social and natural sciences, policymakers and decision-makers in government agencies and nongovernmental organizations to improve understanding of the food-energy-environment nexus to balance the socioeconomic needs of producers and the environmental impacts of unintended consequences such as excessive nitrogen use.
In a global effort to promote accountability for nations’ commitments towards sustainable agriculture, she led the development of the Sustainable Agriculture Matrix (SAM), a quantitative assessment for agriculture sustainability for countries around the world based not only on environmental impacts, but economic and social impacts, as well. SAM provides independent and transparent measurements of agricultural sustainability at a national level that can help governments and organizations to evaluate progress, encourage accountability, identify priorities for improvement, and inform national policies and actions towards sustainable agriculture around the globe.
As a next step, the SAM consortium is launching with six pilot countries and regions, including U.S., Austria, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa. The consortium will use the first edition of SAM indicators as a starting point to engage conversations and coordination among stakeholders, and to co-develop country and regional priorities to identify strategies towards sustainable agriculture.
Zhang has also led collaborative projects to identify ways to improve sustainability of nitrogen management in food, water, and energy systems in China and the United States to help further understand and analyze the interconnectedness of these life sustaining systems and help future policymakers identify best management practices under a variety of socioeconomic and ecological conditions.
Last year, she was awarded a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation to lead a five-year research program to help understand how to align the interest and action of various stakeholders in the agro-food system to reduce nitrogen pollution in the watershed. The goal is to help inform decision-making for sustainable nitrogen use and effective ecosystem management in the Chesapeake Bay and estuaries around the world. This is one of the most prestigious awards to support early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models and build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.
Collaborating closely with economists, modelers, and field experimentalists worldwide, Zhang has published papers on various peer-reviewed journals, including Nature and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and has received research grants from multiple institutions, including National Science Foundation. In addition to research, Zhang also advises students and teaches in the Marine-Estuarine Environmental Sciences Graduate Program.
Zhang received a B.S. in Environmental Science and a B.S. in Computer Science from Ocean University of China (OUC), an M.A. in Environmental Science from Peking University (2007), and a Ph.D. from Yale University (2012). In addition to the academic education, she has completed internships and projects at various national and international organizations, including the United Nations and China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection.