This climate researcher stuffs his office with animals.
By Jessica Weber
The unique array of objects found in Andy Ridgwell’s office is not what you might expect to find in the workspace of a climate researcher.
Located on the basement level of the Geology building, the 49-year-old professor’s office houses a vast and colorful collection; lining the tops of his desk, bookshelves, and windowsills are dozens of plush My Little Pony figurines, as well as various memorabilia from the popular franchise. These aren’t the standard Hasbro toys you’d find on store shelves, but rather one-of-a-kind pieces crafted by artists. Ridgwell said his interest in the collectibles began around six years ago after discovering the current cartoon iteration, “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.”
“I came across it on the internet, where you come across everything,” he said.
In fact, the internet is precisely where the large and unexpected My Little Pony fanbase originated. From message boards, memes, and parody videos, My Little Pony’s fourth incarnation became a cultural phenomenon resulting in a legion of collectors, artists, and fan-organized conventions. Ridgwell himself has been to many of these events around the world, including San Francisco, Baltimore, and his native United Kingdom.
Sitting casually at his desk while barefoot, wearing jeans, a My Little Pony T-shirt, and long dreadlocked hair he said hasn’t been cut since 1986, Ridgwell’s relaxed style and playful office stand in sharp contrast to the serious and analytical work he conducts at his computer.
Writing what he refers to as “bad computer games,” Ridgwell develops numerical models of global environmental processes to better understand climate change spanning as far back as 635 million years.
“I look at how the cycle of carbon and climate may have changed in the geological past, and what the geological record may be telling us in terms of climate changes, evolution events, and extinction events,” he explained.
Ridgwell traces his interest in climate change back to around the age of 14, when it was first becoming a known issue championed by Greenpeace. His interests in earth sciences led him to study mineral physics at the University of Cambridge. Ridgwell later received a master’s degree in environmental science at the University of Nottingham, a doctorate from the University of East Anglia, and he conducted postdoctoral research at UCR in the early 2000s. After various faculty positions in the U.K. and Canada, he found his way back to UCR in 2015.
Ridgwell spends most of his time in front of his computer, from as early as 4 a.m. to as late as 7 p.m., working on his models. This is one reason why the majority of his collection is kept neatly arranged in his office rather than his home. Keeping the ponies at work also protects them from Ridgwell’s other companions — his cats.
While teaching in Canada, Ridgwell had three or four felines at a time, and up to eight in England. Eleven cats currently keep him company on his seven-acre mountain property outside Idyllwild.
Ridgwell acknowledged that his My Little Pony fandom helps keep his love of cats in check.
“It gives me an interest that isn’t collecting cats,” he said.
Black oak doorstop
A slice of black oak from a mostly dead tree overhanging his property, Ridgwell has been using this oversized wood wedge as a door stop for the last 2 ½ years. Black oak, he explained, tends to stand up for decades even when the tree dies because of its tough wood, and squirrels often take up residence in the large holes the tree develops. “I don’t think any squirrels got evicted out of that one when it was felled, though,” he said.
Decommissioned computer server
Ridgwell keeps this defunct computer server in his office to allow students in the programming course he teaches to both see and touch the innerworkings of a computer. Unlike today’s more miniaturized and integrated computer systems, Ridgwell said, computers were once simple enough to take apart and build yourself. He also runs his climate models using similar, more modern, computer servers racked together in a nearby room.
Ridgwell received this clock as a going-away present from his former colleagues at Bristol University in England. Each hour represents things relevant to his interests, including, among other things, isotope geochemistry, muffins, tea, cats, and of course, ponies.
One of the dozens of plush ponies in his office, this one is based on the character Rainbow Dash, who features prominently in the current TV series. Ridgwell acquired it at a convention in Baltimore and brought the pony back to the U.K. when he was still living there. “I had to run through the airport holding her, because it was a very tight connection,” he recalled. “Luckily, on the international flight, I had a spare seat next to me, so she just sat there. I have pictures. I also have pictures of her at the bar in Baltimore on the first flight.”
‘Tracers in the Sea’
Purchased on eBay in the early 2000s, Ridgwell said he bought the book fr around $10 — many copies now sell for over $100. Long out of print, he called “Tracers in the Sea” an “absolute classic” that helped define the study of chemical oceanography and provided a basic understanding of global and past carbon cycling. As a doctoral candidate, Ridgwell borrowed his supervisor’s copy and photocopied the entire textbook.