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Dr. Robert B. Young

“There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere.”
-Isaac Asimov

Contact Info

(970) 222-2304

Soil & Crop Sciences Department
Plant Sciences C117

Mailing address:
1170 Campus Delivery
Fort Collins, Colorado 80523



I was born and raised near Houston, Texas, and received a B.B.A. in finance from the University of Texas (Austin, Texas) in May, 1988. Three years later, I received¬†a law degree from Columbia University (New York, NY), and then practiced law for approximately 15 years. I began as a bankruptcy/business reorganization lawyer, and became a business lawyer specializing in mergers, acquisitions, and other business transactions. I enjoyed the negotiating process and intellectual challenges, but wanted¬†to put the same time and energy into broader problems related to clean water, human health, and the environment. I could have pursued a policy job, but wanted to understand the science behind the issues, so I went back to school.¬†I gravitated to chemistry because I like to understand the fundamental mechanisms and processes that make things happen. I also love working with advanced technologies to solve complex¬†problems. My career change was dramatic, but I couldn’t be happier with the path I have taken, and look forward to the next¬†challenge it brings.


Natural Organic Matter Chemistry

One of my major interests is natural organic matter chemistry. Natural organic matter comprises the¬†largest organic carbon reservoir on earth. In simplest terms, it is a¬†mixture of plant and microbial materials¬†in various states of decay. This mixture is extremely complex, and variable¬†in composition, because it is derived from different sources and subjected to¬†different conditions. In water, natural organic matter commonly¬†occurs¬†as a fine, colloidal suspension of organic molecules, assembled together through¬†complex interactions with each other and¬†metal¬†ions. In soil, natural organic matter forms aggregates and complex associations with soil minerals. For all its complexity at any moment, natural organic matter is also always¬†changing as it continues to decay and interact with the surrounding environment. The study of natural organic matter is important because it is a fundamental component of¬†ecosystem processes and environmental chemistry, affecting¬†biological activity in soils and water bodies, water and nutrient availability in soils, atmospheric CO2, redox and photochemical reactions in nature, contaminant mobility or sequestration, and more. ¬†Together with the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (Tallahassee, FL), we are applying high resolution mass spectrometry (FTICR MS) to examine differences in¬†natural organic matter under various¬†circumstances, including wildfire¬†impacts on organic nitrogen, carbon stabilization during iron mineral¬†crystallization, and the sorption of compost-derived organic matter to¬†mineral soils.¬†In addition, together with the research group of Dr. Randy Bartels (Colorado State University), who has developed a “Doppler” Raman spectroscopy technique that is free of interference from background fluorescence, we are employing Doppler Raman spectroscopy with multivariate regression models to quantify and characterize organic carbon and nitrogen in soils with minimal sample preparation.

Organic Environmental Pollutants

My other major interest is organic environmental pollutants. Because so many people live on this planet, the impact of our activities on clean water supplies, ecosystems, and human health is dramatic. For example, chemicals and chemical byproducts from human activities enter surface and ground water through wastewater discharge, runoff from urban and agricultural developments, and other means. Some of these chemicals are natural, but present at uncharacteristic levels, and others are synthetic. These pollutants can have toxic or chronic health effects, which can be general or specific to particular species and individuals (e.g., allergic reactions to medicines). Furthermore, little is known about their combined effects. We apply advanced analytical techniques to detect organic pollutants in the environment, and to examine their distribution through air, water, soils and sediments. We also study how and when they transform through biological, photochemical, and other chemical reactions.

For more details about the research conducted in the Borch group please click here.


  • Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy
  • Borch-Hoppess Fund for Environmental Contaminant Research
  • Colorado Water Institute
  • National Science Foundation, Division of¬†Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems
  • National Science Foundation, Division of Earth Sciences, Geobiology and Low-Temperature Geochemistry
  • United States – Israel Binational Agriculture Research and Development Fund


  • Liquid and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, including time-of-flight and tandem mass spectrometry
  • Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry
  • Dissolved organic matter characterization
  • Trace contaminant detection and quantification, including sample extraction, concentration, and cleanup
  • Elemental analysis by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry
  • Nontargeted chemical analysis
  • Structure elucidation
  • R programming

Selected Publications

Young, R.B.; Avneri-Katz, S.; McKenna, A.M.; Chen, H.; Bahureksa, W.; Polubesova, T.; Chefetz, B.; Borch, T. Composition-Dependent Sorptive Fractionation of Anthropogenic Dissolved Organic Matter by Fe(III)-Montmorillonite. Soil Systems, 2018, 2, 14, doi: 10.3390/soilsystems2010014.

Hagemann, N., Joseph, S., Schmidt, H.P., Kammann, C.I., Harter, J., Borch, T., Young, R.B., Varga, K., Taherymoosavi, S., Elliott, K.W., McKenna, A., Albu, M., Mayrhofer, C., Obst, M., Conte, P., Dieguez-Alonso, A., Behrens, S., Kappler, A. Organic coating on biochar explains its nutrient retention and stimulation of soil fertility. Nature Communications, 2017, 8(1), 1089. doi: 10.1038/s41467-017-01123-0.

Avneri-Katz, Shani, Robert B. Young, Amy M. McKenna, Huan Chen, Yuri E. Corilo, Tamara Polubesova, Thomas Borch, and Benny Chefetz. Adsorptive fractionation of dissolved organic matter (DOM) by mineral soil: Macroscale approach and molecular insight. Organic Geochemistry, 2017, 103:113-124. doi: 10.1016/j.orggeochem.2016.11.004.

Young, R. B.; Chefetz, B.; Liu, A.; Desyaterik, Y.; Borch, T., Direct photodegradation of lamotrigine (an antiepileptic) in simulated sunlight – pH influenced rates and products. Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts 2014, 16, (4), 848-857, doi: 10.1039/c3em00581j.

Young, R. B.; Latch, D. E.; Mawhinney, D. B.; Nguyen, T. H.; Davis, J. C. C.; Borch, T., Direct photodegradation of androstenedione and testosterone in natural sunlight: Inhibition by dissolved organic matter and reduction of endocrine disrupting potential. Environmental Science & Technology, 2013, 47 (15), 8416-8424, doi: 10.1021/es401689j.

Mawhinney, D. B.; Young, R. B.; Vanderford, B. J.; Borch, T.; Snyder, S. A., Artificial sweetener sucralose in U.S. drinking water systems. Environmental Science & Technology, 2011, 45 (20), 8716-8722, doi: 10.1021/es202404c.

For more publications in the Borch group please click here.

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