Setting the Tune: Exploring Soils Inspires New Song
Graduate Student Creates Hip Hop Track About Summer Field Course
From Fort Bragg to the Mojave Desert – a group of UC Davis students spent part of their summer analyzing the soils of California ecosystems. For graduate student Yuanxin Ji, the experience inspired him to craft a heartfelt song with lyrics about the intricate world of soils set to a catchy tune.
Over the course of 17 days, Ji completed SSC 105/205, a field course that gives students hands-on experience with soils from different terrains across the state. The group traveled and camped out at spots including Red Rock Canyon, Mono Lake and McLaughlin Natural Reserve. They dug soil pits and conducted soil morphology analyses, which required students to describe physical properties including color, texture and structure.
By studying soil taxonomy, Ji said he gained a comprehensive understanding of soil properties, classification and the relationship between soil and the environment, which led to him writing one of his favorite lines of the song.
“I love the lyrics: ‘Spodosol and Histosol, many stories unfold. In this soil taxonomy, nature’s tales are told,’ because soil taxonomy is the equivalent of a language that only soil scientists know how to use,” Ji said. “And by mastering it, you can understand what the soil is telling you about what has happened and is happening to it.”
While creating music is a fun hobby for Ji, his passion lies in the physics of soil. He earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and management with an emphasis in soil and biogeochemistry at UC Davis and is now pursuing a master’s degree with the Soil and Biogeochemistry Graduate Group.
The field course was led by Toby O’Geen, professor of soil science and soil resource specialist in Cooperative Extension, and Rebecca Lybrand, associate professor with the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources. Through the song, Ji weaved together the scientific knowledge he gained about soil with the fun and heartwarming experiences he had with his peers and teachers (including the song’s bridge which reveals the nickname the group of students gave O’Geen during their trip).
In the final chorus, Ji wrote: “Soil taxonomy and nature’s wonders we all have seen, with our hearts filled with joy, we bid adieu to the serene.”
Ji, who is from China, said this was the first song he wrote and sang in English. All his previous tunes were recorded in Mandarin. While he said it was a bit of a challenge to rap some of the verses, he’s proud of his work of art.
“I really like this song and I’m glad that my first song in English can be related to soil,” he said. “I didn’t expect this song to get so much attention, and I’m honored that it’s being liked.”
Ji plans to continue his soil research and would like to pursue a Ph.D. to further expand his understanding of the important world beneath our feet.
“Soil is the foundation of life and a place we still know very little about, even though we have been exploring it for a long time,” Ji said. “Studying soil is like unraveling the mysteries of nature, and more exploration of any branch of soil science will help us better understand the laws of nature.”