Skip to main content

Louis McDonald

Louis McDonald and his wife

Describe your research

About half of my work is in soil chemistry related things and the other half is in soil fertility. My soil fertility work has recently focused on hemp. My soil chemistry work has been on reclamation of soil and acid mine drainage treatment and metal contaminated soils. 


I really like working with spectroscopy, especially portable spectroscopic instruments. I think one of the most interesting things we’ve done recently is figuring out how to keep water from interfering with metal determinations by X-rays. It’s been really successful; I wish I had more time to spend on it. We can go into the field with these units and measure soil or plants at whatever water content they have naturally. Water scatters X-rays so you can’t get very quantitative results back. With these tools, we’ll be able to take a measurement, make corrections and off we go. Whether that’s characterizing metal contaminated soils or phosphorous saturated soils, we’ll be able to get what we need in the field and not have to take samples back to the laboratory.

What jobs did you have before coming to WVU?

I had only typical summer jobs, whatever college kids do in the summer. I took a semester off and worked for a commercial air conditioning company.

What has been the best or most enjoyable time/class/moment in your education?

I think it's when I was an undergraduate. One of the faculty took an interest in me and what I was doing and sort of directed me to a career in science.

What has been the best or most enjoyable time/class/moment in your job?

I’ve had a lot. I think the best thing is in my soil fertility class. I used to have them all do independent projects, and then we’d have a poster session at the end. I really enjoyed that. Helping them get their projects going, helping them present it and just watching them look at other peoples’ projects: that was just so much fun. I looked forward to that every year. 


The ones that I liked the most were the ones where they came up with an idea and nobody was sure if it would really work. But they did it and they stuck with it and it did [work]. They were really happy and I was really happy. It just sort of seemed to ignite in them an interest in their field, even if they didn’t intend to pursue a graduate degree. They just really appreciated the role science played in their career.


What’s one thing you wish you had known in college?

I wish I would not have let people bully me or hurry me into making a decision about what I wanted to do. I think if I had been forced to make a decision as an undergraduate, I would not be where I am now. As an undergraduate, you just don’t know what all the possible things are for you. When you go to college, you think, “Where are the jobs? I could be an engineer; I could be a lawyer or a doctor or a dentist.” You just don’t even know that soil science is a wonderful career.

If you won a billion dollars, what would you do with the money?

I would put it in something that earned interest and then use that interest to support causes that I like. Something for foster kids; something for women's shelters; something for hungry people; something for homeless people. I wouldn’t mind a nice bookshelf for my books, but that’s not a priority.

What were you most grateful for in 2020?

I was grateful that both my wife and I were able to keep our jobs and work from home. I got to spend more time with her.

What were you most excited for in 2021?

Last summer I became a grandfather. I was pretty excited about that! 


I think like all of us, I wanted to get back into my lab, into my classrooms. Teaching online, I just was unable to connect faces with names. I’m usually pretty good at that, but I don’t think I would recognize any of my online students if they were on campus. Seeing their faces was great.  


Just for Fun

What are you currently reading? Oracle Bones, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance 

What’s your favorite meal? Korean bulgogi and Chinese belt noodles with chili oil

What’s a song that you can listen to on repeat? Stayin' Alive

What’s one thing you can’t live without? My wife, Suzanne, and dessert