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Gardner Grad Return to Earth
USU's First PhD Passes Away
by Joshua Paulsen
Gardner DeskThe Aggie Alumni community said farewell to one of its most accomplished members this month. Dr. Walter Hale Gardner passed away on June 11, 2015. He was 98 years old. Gardner was awarded the first Ph.D. from the Utah State Agricultural College (USAC), now Utah State University, in 1950 (Dr. Than Myint, deceased, also received his doctorate that year).
Gardner was part of an era of accomplished soil scientists that sprung from USU, originating with his father, Dr. Willard Gardner, a physicist from University of California Berkeley, who was lured to Utah by John A. Widtsoe, a former president of USU and later an apostle for the LDS Church. Widtsoe maintained his own interest in irrigation and science to help further agricultural development in the West. Willard Gardner applied traditional physics to soils and irrigation, transforming the agricultural industry during ensuing years.

While chair of the Physics department, Willard Gardner coached and challenged his son, who of his own merits developed a remarkable talent for math and science. After completing his bachelor's degree at USAC, he elected to do graduate work at Cornell University, one of the most preeminent agricultural schools at the time. His love for Cache Valley lured him home prior to graduation, however, and he finished both his crowning degrees at Utah State.

Gardner ExperimentGardner relocated to Pullman Washington where he pursued a faculty position researching and training aspiring scientists. His influence, and his father’s, directly influenced other Aggie soil scientists including Dr. Gaylon Campbell (‘65), who went on to found Decagon Devices, and Eric and Evan Campbell, founders of Campbell Scientific, both multinational companies with Cache Valley ties. Coincidentally, Gardner and the Campbells are distantly related.

Gardner’s contributions to soil science include the ubiquitous and ever-relevant text Soil Physics, as well as a time-lapse movie Water Movement in Soil. His contributions changed the way many scientists and industrialists understand the non-intuitive way water moves through soil. He was also likely the inventor of the tension infiltrometer, an instrument widely used by scientists in his field. Gardner constructed the device while an undergraduate student running the physics shop at USAC.

While Walter was one of only two Ph.D.s bestowed in 1950, USU’s reach and breadth have grown immensely. Soil Science remains a distinctive competency for USU; however, the university graduated 104 Ph.D. students this past May, covering many disciplines.