October 2016 marked the sad passing of a great character of the Waite – Max Tate, who joined the Waite in 1964 and had a long and productive career as a biochemist. Max will be remembered for his passion for research, his collegiality, his support for postgraduate students, and his friendly outgoing personality. He played a key role in elucidating the role of agrocins in the biology of Agrobacterium, and was fearless in his work on neurotoxins in vetch seed.

His friends and colleagues in AFW have expressed a desire to not only recognise his contributions to the Waite, but to do so in a very active manner, to ensure that what he brought to this place continues, and continues to have a positive influence. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so the School Management Committee has agreed that we honour the Tate legacy through activities in which we adopt some of his best traits. Soil Scientist Dr Ron Smernik kindly volunteered to go first.

If Max Tate was a soil scientist

Last Friday afternoon, Ron led a group of about 20 researchers from across the Waite in having a close look at the basis – literally – of agriculture at the Waite – the local soil. In preparation for vineyard extensions, six soil pits have been dug to approximately two metres depth. This provides a rare opportunity to look closely at what lies beneath and to discuss how it affects the crops and plants grown there.

Here’s Ron’s Statement:

“The trait I most admired in Max was his ability and enthusiasm as a collaborator and I attribute his success to the following:

  1. An unashamed focus on science. Scientists can’t collaborate without talking about science. Max started conversations by telling you something he’d discovered or asking you what you’d discovered. Max wasn’t afraid to embrace his inner science nerd.
  2. Max wasn’t afraid of being the expert and he wasn’t afraid of not being the expert. He was happy to be recognised as both a great chemist and a poor biologist.”

“Now many of you may have seen a soil pit before, but I can guarantee never have you had its intricacies explained by a Max Tate impersonator. My ambition is to do what Max would if he were to have been faced with this opportunity: to spark scientific discussion, to convey to you what soil scientists see in a soil and what the current bounds of knowledge are, but also to ask you (as non-soil scientists) to tell us (as soil scientists) what you’d really like to know about soils.“

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