JW (Jan-Willem) van Groenigen JW (Jan-Willem) van Groenigen


Popular media appearances

It is important to me to communicate our research, and the importance of soil, in general. In addition, I sometimes comment on issues related to misconduct in science. Below is a selection of appearances in popular media over the last 10 years

Dutch newspapers


International newspapers

  • An interview in El Pais on citation / university ranking manipulation, May 4, 2023


Dutch television

  • 2015: Main guest in TV program "Het Klokhuis" (popular science program for children; public television) episode related to earthworms
  • 2017: Main guest in TV program "De Kennis van Nu" (popular science program for adults; public television) episode related to earthworms
  • 2018: Main guest in TV program "De Buitendienst" (popular science program for children; public television) episode related to earthworms


Miscellaneous and Social Media

  • February 2023: Involvement in script writing and major appearance in movie-length documentary “Onder het maaiveld” on soil ecology (distributed in the Netherlands as well as internationally).
  • May 2024: a movieclip of the yearly Worm Charming Championship which I organized went viral on Instagram and TikTok (more than 1.5 million viewers)
  • 2017 - present: several popular timelapse movies on soil life, including vermicomposting, the effect of fauna, plant growth, etc. 

Research and Teaching

I am a soil biochemist, working as full professor in the Soil Biology Group. My inaugural lecture was entitled “Natural cycles in unnatural soil”. To me, this is still the best summary of my research program. My main aim is to understand cycles of elements, in particular those of the nutrients Nitrogen and Phosphorus, as well as Carbon. I study in particular how soil organisms affect these cycles (“natural cycles”) in man-made systems (“unnatural soil”; often agriculture) rather than natural ecosystems.

I have chosen this focus out of a conviction that mainstream soil ecology is biased when studying agricultural systems. Implicitly or explicitly, natural systems are almost always considered the benchmark for sustainability. Seen in that light, agriculture will be a continuous disappointment for soil ecologists, as biodiversity is almost inevitably lower in agriculture than in nature. As a result, most of the processes mediated by soil biota will also function less well in agriculture than in nature. The goal of soil ecologists will therefore often be to make agriculture as similar to nature as possible: this is reflected in phrases such as “learning from nature” and “nature-inclusive agriculture”.

Up to a point, I agree with this approach. Nature can learn us important things that can help to improve agricultural systems. However, there are also many cases where processes that are really important in nature are less relevant in agriculture. I am particularly intrigued with novel roles of biota that do not have a parallel in nature, such as the effects earthworm can have on making “legacy phosphorus” from past fertilization available to crops. As I phrased it in my inaugural lecture, we should be “inspired by nature, but not blinded by nature”. The main societal themes which my research relates to are food security, the need for circularity, and climate change.

I am an enthusiastic teacher. It is my strong conviction that at a university, excellent teaching begets excellent research, and excellent research begets excellent teaching. One is not possible - or desirable - without the other. I therefore try to integrate my research as much as possible with my teaching. During my career until now, I have (co-)supervised 19 PhD students and more than 100 MSc and BSc students.

Much of my professional time is taken up by Geoderma, the global journal of soil science, of which I am the Chair of the Editors-in-Chief. In 2023, Geoderma switched as one of the first major soil science journal to a full Open Access publishing model.

I have so far published more than 120 manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals as author or co-author. Since 2018, I have been listed as “Highly Cited Scientist” by Clarivate / Web of Science, and in 2024 the European Geophysical Union awarded me the prestigious Philippe Duchaufour Medal for “outstanding work on the integration of agricultural management and environmental science as they relate to global change".


Why Soil Fauna?

Why am I interested in the effects of soil fauna, whereas soil microbiologists always tell us that microbes do most of the biochemical processes in the soil? Because fauna to a large extent control the conditions for microbes to do so! Check out this timelapse movie that we made: two compartments have microbes, but only one has soil fauna!