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Qian Zhao
Earth Scientist

Dr. Zhao is an Earth Scientist with the Biogeochemical Transformations team. Zhao focuses on carbon stability and the interactions between soil organic matter, microbes, and minerals from molecular to continental-scale ecosystems. With capabilities in different state-of-the-art analytical techniques, including X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, Mössbauer spectroscopy, and synchrotron-based X-ray absorption spectroscopy, he is pursuing a systematic understanding of soil organic matter decomposition mechanisms at the interface between plants, microorganisms, and minerals with environmental implications on global carbon-nitrogen cycling.

Research Interests

  • Environmental geochemistry
  • Carbon stability in ecosystem
  • Organic matter, microorganisms, and minerals interactions
  • Microbial ecology
  • Redox cycling of carbon and Fe minerals


  • PhD in Environmental Engineering, University of Nevada, 2017
  • MS in Environmental Engineering, Oklahoma State University, 2012
  • BS in Environmental Engineering, Shenyang Architecture University, 2009

Awards and Recognition

  • Student Travel Award, 254th National Meeting, American Chemical Society (2017)
  • Student Travel Fellowship, Principal Investigator's Meeting, U.S. Department of Energy (2016)
  • Student Travel Award, Graduate Student Association, University of Nevada Reno, (2015)
  • Annual Scholarship, Eastern Sierra Chapter, Air & Waste Management Association (2015)
  • Differential Fee Fellowship, College of Engineering, University of Nevada Reno (2014)



Dunham-Cheatham, S. M., Q. Zhao, D. Obrist, and Y. Yang. 2020. “Unexpected Mechanism for Glucose-Primed Soil Organic Carbon Mineralization under an Anaerobic–Aerobic Transition.” Geoderma 376.

Huang, X., Q. Zhao, R. P. Young, X. Zhang, E. D. Walter, Y. Chen, E. Nakouzi, S. D. Taylor, J. S. Loring, Z. Wang, K. S. Hofmockel, and K. M. Rosso. 2020. “Photo-Production of Reactive Oxygen Species and Degradation of Dissolved Organic Matter by Hematite Nanoplates Functionalized by Adsorbed Oxalate.” Environmental Science: Nano 7 (8): 2278-2292.

Zhao, Q., S. J. Callister, A. M. Thompson, R. K. Kukkadapu, M. M. Tfaily, L. M. Bramer, N. P. Qafoku, S. L. Bell, S. E. Hobbie, E. W. Seabloom, E. T. Borer, and K. S. Hofmockel. 2020. “Strong Mineralogic Control of Soil Organic Matter Composition in Response to Nutrient Addition across Diverse Grassland Sites.” Science of the Total Environment 736.

Zhao, Q., S. Dunham-Cheatham, D. Adhikari, C. Chen, A. Patel, S. R. Poulson, D. Obrist, P. S. J. Verburg, X. Wang, E. R. Roden, A. Thompson, and Y. Yang. 2020. “Oxidation of Soil Organic Carbon During an Anoxic-Oxic Transition.” Geoderma 377.


Wordofa, D. N., D. Adhikari, S. M. Dunham-Cheatham, Q. Zhao, S. R. Poulson, Y. Tang, and Y. Yang. 2019. “Biogeochemical Fate of Ferrihydrite-Model Organic Compound Complexes During Anaerobic Microbial Reduction.” Science of the Total Environment 668: 216-223.


Zhao, Q., D. Adhikari, R. Huang, A. Patel, X. Wang, Y. Tang, D. Obrist, E. E. Roden, and Y. Yang. 2017. “Coupled Dynamics of Iron and Iron-Bound Organic Carbon in Forest Soils During Anaerobic Reduction.” Chemical Geology 464: 118-126.

Adhikari, D., Q. Zhao, K. Das, J. Mejia, R. Huang, X. Wang, S. R. Poulson, Y. Tang, E. E. Roden, and Y. Yang. 2017. Dynamics of Ferrihydrite-Bound Organic Carbon During Microbial Fe Reduction, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 212: 221-233.


Zhao, Q., S. R. Poulson, D. Obrist, S. Sumaila, J. J. Dynes, J. M. McBeth, and Y. Yang. 2016. “Iron-Bound Organic Carbon in Forest Soils: Quantification and Characterization.” Biogeosciences 13 (16): 4777-4788.