Wisconsin”s lakes and waterways, along with our nation”s helicopter crews in Iraq, are better off thanks to the work of Gary Bubenzer. Bubenzer”s efforts on behalf of his students, the UW-Madison, the environment and the engineering profession have earned him the Distinguished Service Award for 2005 from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
Bubenzer, who retired in 2002, joined the faculty of the Department of Agricultural Engineering (now Biological Systems Engineering) in 1969, after earning his doctorate in agricultural engineering from the University of Illinois.
Bubenzer quickly developed a national reputation for his expertise on soil erosion. He focused on understanding the mechanisms of soil movement due to wind and water and how to control that movement. Bubenzer was one of the earliest scientists to recognize the value of using measurements of radioactive cesium (deposited in soil by fallout from nuclear-weapon testing) to define soil movement in field studies of erosion and deposition.
Bubenzer was concerned about stormwater runoff and construction-site erosion long before most people noticed the problems they were causing in Wisconsin”s waterways. He was one of the first to study runoff from urban areas. Some of his earliest research dealt with stormwater impacts; his colleagues recall him dropping water from the second-floor of the Ag Engineering building onto soil samples on the ground to investigate what happens when rainfall hits soil.
He carried his erosion-control message to city, state and national leaders, as well as internationally. Bubenzer worked closely with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources staff to implement the initial Stormwater Management Practice Manual, and he developed educational modules used statewide to teach builders, contractors and design engineers about improved stormwater management techniques. He also spent a year as a visiting scholar in Japan, studying and lecturing on controlling erosion and stormwater runoff.
“A small Extension appointment never stopped him from traveling statewide to talk to groups of farmers, builders and engineers about erosion control and protecting water quality,” says department chair Pat Walsh. His outreach work focused on controlling runoff from construction sites in both urban and rural settings, and he has been in great demand to serve on planning committees and speak at conferences around the state.
He served on dozens of departmental, College, Cooperative Extension and campus committees, in addition to working with county, state and federal agencies on water-quality issues.
His early research on wind erosion provided the basis for a soil-bonding method that uses polymers to clump soil particles together. One of his former students, Aicardo Roa-Espinosa, perfected the method to prevent soil erosion from hillsides and construction sites during rainstorms. Roa-Espinosa and Bubenzer recently adapted the method to lock down dusty soils at helicopter landing sites. Rotor downwash kicks up huge dust clouds from desert soils, often blinding the pilot during the final moments of a landing. Now being used in Iraq, the technique dramatically increases visibility during landings, and also reduces the risk that static electricity in the dust clouds will fry onboard electronics.
Bubenzer carried one of the largest teaching loads in the department, teaching four or five courses per year, including the time-consuming surveying course, which he taught throughout his career at the College. He taught classes at all levels, from Short Course to graduate, and won teaching awards from both CALS and the College of Engineering. Bubenzer took the lead in developing the department”s Natural Resources and Environment teaching area. He advised 10 doctoral students and about 30 master”s students, who have gone on to positions in industry, government and academia throughout the United States.
Bubenzer has held more than a dozen leadership positions in the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. “Gary has always been willing to put in the time to help take the profession forward through his work with the society”s soil and water division, both as chair of the division and as division and associate editor and reviewer for more than 30 years, where he was responsible for peer review of more than 1,000 submitted manuscripts,” Walsh said. Bubenzer was named a Fellow of the ASABE in 1991, and received the Hancor Soil and Water Engineering Award from the society in 1998 for his many contributions.
Bubenzer has been active in the national Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, which accredits university engineering programs. He served as representative for agricultural engineering programs on the Engineering Accreditation Commission and developed materials for ABET 2000, the newly implemented national accreditation standard. Bubenzer has led many accreditation site-visit teams, and has been instrumental in developing criteria for accreditation, as well as training people to do accreditation reviews. He is still involved with ABET in his retirement, and is currently working with BSE and the College of Engineering to prepare for their 2006 ABET accreditation.
The Distinguished Service Award is given annually to a CALS faculty or staff member for meritorious contributions to the College, University and people of Wisconsin. Bubenzer will receive the award at the College’s Honorary Recognition banquet Thursday, Oct. 27 at the Memorial Union, 800 Langdon St. on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. A reception to meet past and current honorees begins at 5:30 p.m., with dinner at 6:30 p.m. For more information, call (608) 262-4930 or go here. Please make reservations by mail or on-line. Parking is available in Lot 6 under Helen C. White Library on Park Street across from the Union, and at the Lake Street ramp.