Mark Ritchie

Favourite Thing: discovering new solutions to thorny problems that have plagued scientists for years



A.B. w Honors,, Indiana University; M.S. Ph.D., University of Michigan


30 years’ experience in ecology and natural resources science across five continents

Work History:

University of Minnesota, Utah State University, Syracuse University

Current Job:



Syracuse University

Me and my work

I discover new ways that animals, plants, and soil microorganisms affect each other and how this knowledge can help transform how people live.

My Typical Day

I get my kids breakfast and off to school, then work on research articles or grant proposals, teach seminars or laboratory classes, and finish by taking my kids to their activities.

What I'd do with the money

I plan to start a weekly afterschool science club at my local middle school that helps students develop science fair projects, get hands on experience with a lot of different aspects to science, and integrate biology, chemistry, physics and math

One of the things kids want most in science is hands on experience. In public schools this is often hard to come by due to large class sizes, lack of equipment, and pressure to focus on “more important” subjects like Math and English. Working with some teachers at my local school, I plan a weekly science club meeting where kids would explore things like “Hot Stuff,” or learning about heat and temperature in fun short experiments like measuring whether a thinking or relaxed brain gives off more heat, using club members as subjects! Another module would be “Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Microbes,” where we would teach the basic biology of bacteria, yeast, fungi and viruses, all while students use what they learn to solve a mystery. You know, the subject of forensics, or CSI-Middle School! Another one would be “Luny Lights – In the Eye of the Beholder” that explores light, optics, the eye, lasers, and photosynthesis in plants. Some modules would be outside where kids get their feet wet or muddy, and others would be inside with lab coats, goggles, and microscopes. There are almost endless possibilities

A second focus will be to help each club member develop a rocking science fair project worthy of regional competitions, big time feedback from real scientists, and possibly even gold medals! This is important because most middle school kids really want to learn how to do long-term projects but need a lot of help and encouragement, particularly at the start.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

bold, thoughtful, earnest

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Earth Wind and Fire

What's your favourite food?

barbeque brisket

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Ride a mountain bike down Haleakala volcano on Maui, Hawaii

What did you want to be after you left school?

I first wanted to be a doctor…then I discovered ecology and I’ve never wanted to be anything else

Were you ever in trouble at school?


What was your favourite subject at school?

In secondary school, it was band; in college it was ecology!

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I discovered that pastoralist people can manage their livestock to store greenhouse gases in the soil, and that some of those grasses harbor lots of bacteria on their roots that convert nitrogen from the atmosphere into chemicals that plants can use to make proteins

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My own need to know how the world works

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

An entrepreneur or musical composer

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

tall enough to be good at basketball, hair on my head, lifetime season tickets to the University of Texas Longhorns football games

Tell us a joke.

Why did the squirrel cross the road – because he was NUTS!

Other stuff

Work photos: