Liana Burghardt named new Director of Center for Root and Rhizosphere Biology

Assistant Professor of Plant Science Liana Burghardt is serving as the new Director of the Center for Root and Rhizosphere Biology, replacing outgoing director Jonathan Lynch, distinguished professor of plant nutrition.

Members of the CRRB standing on an outside staircase to pose for a group photo

When the Center for Root and Rhizosphere Biology (CRRB) meets for the first time this semester, it will do so under new leadership. Former director Jonathan Lynch, distinguished professor of plant nutrition, is stepping aside to be succeeded by Assistant Professor of Plant Science Liana Burghardt, who also holds the title of Huck Early Career Chair of Root Biology and Rhizosphere Interactions.

While a research unit focused on studying plant roots may initially sound like a quaint holdover from the University’s agricultural heritage, the CRRB is a vital and highly relevant division of a forward-looking plant science community with a commitment to crossing disciplinary boundaries and a mandate that updates the land-grant directive for 21st Century challenges.

“Better understanding of roots and their associated microbes is opening paths to more resilient, productive agriculture and sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide,” said Lynch. “These tools are urgently needed now and will only become more important in coming decades as we face the unprecedented challenge of sustaining 10 billion people in a degraded environment.”

Burghardt has embraced this challenge through her research and as a faculty member for three Huck grad programs and multiple research units—including a previous leadership role at the CRRB.

“For the past three years, I have enjoyed being a part of the CRRB steering committee,” she said. “I am particularly honored to have been nominated by our graduate student members to lead and guide our vibrant community of faculty, postdocs, staff, and students who share a common interest in roots in the years ahead.”

Much of Burghardt’s time will be dedicated to the nitty-gritty work of fostering community among the center membership and forging links with colleagues outside the center’s immediate milieu. Joining her in these efforts is a dedicated steering committee that includes Assistant Professor of Plant Science Luis Duque, graduate students Courtney Tharp and Ivan Lopez Valdivia, and post-doctoral scholar Shiran Ben Zeev.

“I am grateful for Jonathan Lynch’s strong leadership and excited to foster discussions and interdisciplinary research,” said Burghardt.

“We have a promising year ahead. Apart from our internal networking events, we will bring in diverse invited speakers from across career stages, create opportunities for new research connections between our members and scientists in materials science and engineering, and be active participants in stewardship and planning for current and future facilities to enable research on roots, soils, and rhizosphere.”

To the last point, Burghardt identifies a potential rallying point in PlantWorks, an ambitious collection of proposed overhauls and updates to Penn State’s venerable but aging plant science facilities.

But no matter the quality of the capital improvements, Burghardt and the rest of the CRRB are quick to center the role of the real people doing the science. All members of Penn State University are welcome to join the Center’s first meeting, at 2:30 on September 29 in 202 Ferguson, and Burghardt invites anyone—from potential center members to curious students—to visit the CRRB website.

“It is very gratifying that the Center is now under the capable leadership of Dr. Liana Burghardt,” said Lynch. “Penn State has assembled an unparalleled team of young scholars working on these issues. It has been my great honor and privilege to support them through this Huck center.”