There has been a significant and much welcomed renaissance in soil science prompted by concerns about food security, environmental degradation and climate change. Central to a comprehensive understanding of each of these global challenges is soil physics, one of the basic and key sub‐disciplines of soil science. Throughout its history, the European Journal of Soil Science (and its predecessor the Journal of Soil Science) has advocated soil physics and published some very significant and highly cited contributions. Of particular note from the early days of the journal are advances in understanding soil physical structure and its impact on a range of processes. Influential papers include Croney & Coleman's (1954) study of the relationship between soil structure and the water retention curve, Quirk & Schofield's (1955) research on the impact of electrolytes on physical structure measured by soil permeability (see also Landmark Paper No 2: EJSS, 64, 1–15) and Marshall's (1958) work that related soil permeability to the size distribution of pores. A more recent review by Jarvis (2007) is now a principal source of information on how macropores cause non‐equilibrium flow in soils. Rose (1973) advanced understanding of the hydrodynamic dispersion of solutes considerably, extending to a recent paper on the impact of surface–solute interactions that is highly relevant to understanding nutrient capture by plants on the one hand, and/or their losses on the other (Rose et al., 2009).