'Soil, Not Dirt' a Digital Journey

July 6, 2015

To Rebecca Lybrand, calling soil "dirt" is simplistic and diminishes its importance to plants, animals and humans. So why is soil, the foundation of life, constantly being referred to as "dirt"? 

That simple question turned into a career for Lybrand, now a soil scientist at the University of Arizona. She received her Ph.D. from the UA’s Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science in 2014. She also received the 2014 Climate Assessment for the Southwest, or CLIMAS, Climate & Society Graduate Fellowship. 

Lybrand’s CLIMAS project centered on creating two short films that documented her research in the Santa Catalina Mountains. The films showcase four of her field sites, which span 4,000 feet of elevation gain. The sites differ in temperature, precipitation and vegetation, all of which have remarkable impact on the characteristics of the soils. 

The film previewed here, "Soil, Not Dirt," uses a first-person perspective to relay a scientific story (click here to watch the full-length version). The other film is in third person, similar to a science documentary.

Lybrand didn’t have much experience with shooting footage or editing video prior to working on the project. Her inspiration came from mountain biking, during which she has used a GoPro camera to film her adventures on the trails. She is a fan of attention-grabbing, professionally produced mountain biking documentaries.

"I always thought that the videos were really engaging and even people who don’t mountain bike enjoy watching them," Lybrand said.  "I kept thinking, 'This is the way to present science, in a fun and interactive way.'

"Everyone is always interested in the different types of outreach work that you do and in knowing that you are able to communicate to interdisciplinary teams of scientists and the public. Having this concrete visual representation of my research is a great product."