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Duane Hrncir, left, acting president of South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, and Gov. Dennis Daugaard, right, present Diana Wall with the 2012 Mines Medal on Thursday. Wall, professor of biology and senior scientist at the Natural Resource Ecology Lab at Colorado State University, is internationally recognized for her research in soil diversity.

Aaron Rosenblatt, Rapid City Journal

This has been an emotional week for the faculty and students of South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.

On Monday, Mines said farewell to its late president Robert Wharton, then on Thursday honored ecologist Diana Wall of the University of Colorado with the 2012 Mines Medal.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard attended the event and assisted with the medal presentation during a banquet at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

“I think it’s extremely special to be recognized for the science you do in your career,” Wall said. “The Mines Medal has gone to some outstanding internationally known scientists, and … I was just stunned when I got the award.”

Wharton created the program four years ago to honor engineers and scientists for their exceptional leadership and innovation.

The program also serves as a fundraising program to support graduate student fellowships. Henok Tiraneh, a doctoral student in geological engineering from Ethiopia, was recognized as the 2012 Mines Medal Fellowship winner Thursday.

Wall was a colleague of Wharton’s. They worked together for many years doing research in the Antarctic. Wharton changed her career, she said.

“Bob was a scientific leader with a lot of scientific vision,” Wall said.

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Wall is one of the world’s foremost experts on biodiversity and director of the School of Global Environmental Sustainability at Colorado State University. She has conducted more than 25 expeditions to Antarctica, where Wall Valley is named in her honor.

“As one of the world’s leading experts in microbial and invertebrate diversity, the impact of Dr. Wall’s research efforts is far-reaching with ecosystem survival implications,” Wharton wrote in a statement prepared before his death. “Her work is enabling us all to better understand and protect our soil, its biodiversity and thus, human life. We are proud to present this prestigious award to Dr. Diana Wall.”

Understanding the diversity in the soil beneath our feet and its relationship with our environment is important, Wall said.

Managing that biodiversity is also managing our soils, she said.

“We don’t have to go to the tropics to see a lot of biodiversity. It’s under our feet,” Wall said. “We know that all soil organisms are not the same. We have to be very careful. It’s a very fragile environment. We can’t misuse it. It’s a resource like water. We’ve got to treat it with respect."

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