Name: Professor Mark Hodson
Research institution: Environment department, University of York
Research career length: 22 years
Research Council: Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Location: York, England
Brief summary of research: Low temperature geochemistry and mineralogy with a current focus on earthworms
A-levels: Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics
BA Geology, University of Oxford
PhD in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Edinburgh on magma chambers
Postdoc at Macaulay Land Use Research Institute in Aberdeen on acid rain and soil
Postdoc at Natural History Museum on contaminated soil
Temporary teaching contract at the University of Reading, followed by Lectureship, Senior Lectureship, Readership and Chair
Chair at York
Human activity has polluted many parts of our planet, which means that there are areas that we cannot use or inhabit. Mark Hodson leads research that attempts to understand what happens to soil when these contaminants are present, and to explore how contaminated sites can be made safe and reused. Much of this work currently focuses on how pollutants affect earthworms, as they are essential for healthy soils.
I am trying to understand how pollutants released into the environment by humans, interact with the natural environment and have an effect upon it. In addition to conserving unspoiled parts of the Earth, we also need to find ways of decontaminating areas that have been exposed to industrial pollution, sometimes over a period of decades or even longer.
A large part of our research focuses on earthworms, since these animals are vastly important to the functioning of soil and whole ecosystems. Earthworms help recycle material in the soil by contributing to decay, they mix soils and ensure that it is filled with air for other living things to obtain oxygen. Earthworms also boost soil structure and fertility.
Support for our research comes from a number of government sources, from industry and from overseas organisations, which I think shows how important this work is considered for the planet’s future. That doesn’t mean that all research should be funded simply because it has a direct application - the worldwide web and penicillin are perfect examples of how research can lead to positive outcomes that were never thought of at the beginning.
I work with a team - some people are more junior to me, some have knowledge that I don't have. We talk together and plan what we want to achieve. Sometimes we go off and achieve the individual tasks and then put them together to build something bigger and better than what we could individually.
When I was acting Head of School at the University of Reading, I had a number of responsibilities added to my research and lecturing roles, including dealing with financial matters, staffing and personnel, and strategic planning for the school’s future. I recently became Chair at the University of York and I’m settling into my new post by teaching and doing research, before taking on the further responsibilities that comes with the role.
I now travel overseas once or twice a year. I’ve cut down the number of trips I make now that I have young children. However I do have some quite memorable experiences including sliding down a glacier in Greenland (by accident), and being rescued by the Danish navy - also in Greenland, when the boat we had hired to pick us up couldn't get to us. Also whilst constructing maps in Turkey, local villagers invited us into their homes to share mint tea with them.
I would like to carry on doing more research, but also become more involved in management and looking after other people’s careers. My own ambition is to continue doing a job that I enjoy.