Alumnus George Giannopulos – MSc Earth and Environment

I remember myself playing with soils and searching for earthworms under a pear tree at my grandmother’s garden at the age of 4. At that time, I observed that earthworms accumulate under piles of fallen pear leafs; naively thinking that earworms enjoy the shade from pear leafs as much as I enjoyed playing under the pear tree shadow blocking the hot Greek sun.

That made me even more curious to understand where those nitrous oxide emissions originate from

Although through my high school education I was very much into maths, physics and biology, which I enjoyed so much that an engineer career would be my future plan, I then realized that soil science is so multi-disciplinary that combined  all my favourite high-school subjects ranging from soil physics and modelling to soil biology and ecosystem functioning. I have graduated from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki with a Ptychion (BSc and MSc) in Soil Science, Hydraulics and Agricultural Engineering and felt that I wanted to expand my knowledge and understanding of soil ecosystems at a smaller scale.

That search for knowledge led me to Wageningen University, where I investigated the earthworm induced nitrous oxide soil emissions with Prof. Jan-Willem van Groenigen. I have collected thousands of earthworms and it was so much fun feeling as curious as in the age of 4! Nitrous oxide is a very potent greenhouse gas and of great importance due to its 300 fold greater warming potential than carbon monoxide. This topic was very novel at that time because it demonstrated a previously unknown direct link of mesofauna feeding ecology and soil gasses. My thesis was combined with an internship in Alterra to tackle the long incubation experiment and the huge datasets that were acquired. Although no-one enjoys staying for hours in a 15 degrees Celsius climate controlled room with 120 mesocosms, sniffing the accumulating nitrous oxide made everyone happy! This multi-disciplinary project using stable isotopes collected data from chemical, physical and ecological observations and our results were published and received wide acceptance. However, that made me even more curious to understand where those nitrous oxide emissions originate from, so I pursued a doctoral degree program investigating the biochemistry of denitrification, a process that reduces nitrate to di-nitrogen, at the University of East Anglia under the supervision of Prof. David Richardson.

At an even finer scale now, using a model organism Paracoccus denitrificans, I investigated the physiology and the underlying genetic regulation of aerobic respiration and denitrification. Currently I am working on a huge multi-disciplinary project as a post-doctoral researcher that investigates the effects of a unique storm surge flood on terrestrial ecosystem functioning at the North Norfolk coast, UK. This position involves a wide range of analysis to understand this unique phenomenon and proposal writing to secure additional research grants.

My previous studies in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Wageningen University and University of East Anglia improved significantly my competency in science and research and I find specifically useful and applicable the multi-disciplinary research approach taught at Wageningen University. I thoroughly enjoyed and gained valuable skills in effective planning and team-working while studying in Wageningen. Besides that, making friends from the wide multi-cultural environment in the little town of Wageningen will be greatly missed!