Heather Ritchie

Favourite Thing: Going to sea and examining the species that live in the deep oceans – especially when we find new species. I love to look at the differences in the DNA between the different species living at extreme depths to try and understand how and why they live there.



Peterhead Academy 2001-2007, Aberdeen University: BSc (Hons.) Marine Biology 2007-2011, MRes (Comm.) Marine and Fisheries Ecology 2011-2012. Ph.D Biological Sciences 2012-Present


BSc (Hons.) Marine Biology, MRes (Comm.) Marine and Fisheries Ecology, PADI Open Water, PADI Advanced Open Water, RYA Powerboat Level II, GMDSS (VHS) License.

Work History:

I volunteer for the WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation) as a shorewater but previously I have worked as an aquarist assistant and guide at the Macduff Marine Aquarium and as a baker for ASDA.

Current Job:

I am a Ph.D Student at the University of Aberdeen specialising in deep-sea genomics.


University of Aberdeen/Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland

Me and my work

When I’m not off galavanting at sea collecting samples for my studies then I am usually based in my lab where I look at the differences in the genomes, DNA, genes etc to better understand why these creatures are so unique and how they can live at the very bottom of the sea.

Before I can do any work on the genomes of my species I first have to go to sea to collect them. The deepest parts of the ocean are typically found around fault lines (where tectonic plates collide) in the Pacific Ocean. This is often referred to as the Pacific Rim. The species I work on live in the deepest part of the sea called the hadal zone which is below 6000m! Since we cannot dive to these depths we send down baited traps and cameras to observe the life down there. Last year we went to a deep point in the sea that nobody in the world had EVER been to. You can read more about that in this BBC News Article which over 50 million other people have read too:

Once I get back from sea I take my samples into the lab and I remove the genomes (all their DNA) from the different species. I use the DNA to look at different genes by using a process known as PCR to essentially photocopy the gene I want to look at so I have lots of copies which I can use to see it more clearly. I look at particular genes that I think are important for my species to live at such an extreme depth.

My Typical Day

A typical day in the lab for me involves extracting genomic DNA (the whole genome of the individual) to then look at particular genes that I find interesting or think might be important.

What I'd do with the money

I would love to use the money to print posters etc that I could take to a variety of science festivals and schools as part of my communication work.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Fun, lively and adventurous.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Frightened Rabbit.

What's your favourite food?

Crisps. I went 12 days without crisps on a research cruise and it is the longest I have been without them in living memory.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

For my birthday last year I hiked the Franz Josef Glacier and kayaked the Milford South in New Zealand.

What did you want to be after you left school?

A marine biologist but at the time I didn’t know it was a real job!

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

I once got lines for forgetting my maths textbook. One punishment in 6 years is not bad.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Biology, of course!

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

Last November me and some colleagues sampled the New Hebrides Trench in the Pacific Ocean. It had NEVER been biologically sampled before so we were the first people EVER to look in the trench. Very cool!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

When I was young my dad had a boat and we often took little trips out to sea and I loved watching the fish swim underneath the boat. When I was 9 I saw a sunfish on a school trip to a fish market and was so fascinated by its odd shape that I knew I wanted to spend my life looking at these fantastic creatures.

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

I used to work as an aquarist’s assistant at an aquarium so if I wasn’t a scientist I think I’d still like to be involved in sea life but with animal husbandry.

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

I would wish for: a trip to Challenger Deep (the deepest point in the sea), to have a new species of amphipod named after me and the ability to run a sub-4 hour marathon would be great!

Tell us a joke.

What kind of cheese do you use to entice a bear down a mountain? Camembert!

Other stuff

Work photos:

The small science crew standing in front of some equipment on the boat from our cruise to the. New. Hebrides trench.

Me picking out the animals I work in which are stuck to a rotten fish skeleton. It’s not all glamorous working in science!

One of the pieces of equipment being lifted off the back of the boat into the sea.

Some of the amphipods I work on. Amphipods can crustaceans that you may be familiar with either in rock pools or little sand hoppers that you find jumping around the sand at the beach. These are their deep sea cousins.

Again some of the amphipods being looked at.

Me getting ready for the last bit of exploring before we head for shore. At this point I think we had been at sea for nearly 30 days!

Although being at sea for a long time can be hard and we did encounter a storm we also experienced some beautiful Pacific weather.

This is a slightly more aerial view of the deck of the boat used for the expedition.

A closer view of some of our equipment.

Just to show how small our boat was for working on. A whole 28m long!