The James Hutton institute’s Head of Forensic Soil Science, Professor Lorna Dawson, has become the first winner of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s (RSE) medal for earth and environmental sciences.

The new medal, named after the institute’s namesake and RSE founder member James Hutton, recognises Professor Dawson’s exceptional achievements in soil and environmental science, including developing and pioneering the use of soil science to solve crime in the UK and further afield.

Professor Dawson, who is based at the institute’s Aberdeen campus, says, “It is an honour to be selected for this award, in particular, being recognised as the recipient of the RSE James Hutton medal, which bears the name of the Institute where I work.

“James Hutton was the founding figure of modern geology and a practicing farmer, areas still at the heart of why soil is so important in our understanding of and delivery to society’s wellbeing. With threats of climate change, biodiversity loss, food security and safety, there has never been a more important time to communicate and engage effectively with society on the areas of soil science, earth and the environment.”

Professor Dawson was brought up on a farm in Forfar, where she went to Forfar Academy before studying geography at the University of Edinburgh and then gaining a PhD in soil science at the University of Aberdeen. She started her career with The James Hutton Institute in 1985, when she joined its predecessor, The Macaulay Institute.

Since then she has also supported countless police investigations, been an expert witness on more than 20 cases, including the recent Sheku Bayoh Public Inquiry, advised the National Crime Agency, published more than 100 scientific papers and has played a major role in public engagement in soil and forensic science.

“One of the main achievements in my career has been in developing, pioneering, and communicating the application of soil science within the Criminal Justice System both in the UK and abroad,” says Professor Dawson. “This has involved extensive collaboration with investigating authorities and civil, environmental, and criminal law agencies. It has also involved working closely with the media to help engage the public in soil science, in particular, forensic soil science.

“This award is thanks to the many people I have collaborated with at The James Hutton Institute, and across all the Scottish institutes and universities, in particular Robert Gordon University. It also reflects the benefit of cooperation between many agency partners both within the UK and abroad.”

In addition to her pioneering work in forensic soil science, Professor Dawson has been a programme advisor to the Scottish Government and served on the Scottish Government Arable Climate Change Advisory Group (ACCG). She is also Knowledge Exchange lead for environment at SEFARI Gateway, the knowledge exchange and impact hub for the Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes.

She currently sits on the Environment Protection Scotland (EPS) Land Quality Expert Advisory Group and is on the scientific advisory panel for the Scottish Government’s Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board (ARIOB).

She is also an honorary professor in Forensic Science at Robert Gordon University, a Food Farming and Countryside Commission Commissioner, a Chartered Scientist, a Fellow of the British Society of Soil Science, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Professor Dawson was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in June 2018.

The RSE medal for earth and environmental sciences will be presented at a ceremony on Wednesday, 22 November 2023.

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