Dundee-born Margaret Ritchie, an innovative doctor of chemistry, lecturer and creator of STEM Academy Scotland, has died aged 65.
She devised the academy, which promotes sciences, technology, engineering and maths, while lecturing in Glasgow from 2017.
During the Covid pandemic, when schools and universities were closed, Margaret moved the entire academy online to bring together experts from industry, schools and universities to share expertise and continue science education.
In a long career in education, Margaret taught in Dundee, Perth, Arbroath and Aberdeen and co-ordinated science teaching for Highland Council.
She was born in Dundee on January 18 1958 to Margaret and Wallace Caldwell, optometrists in the city.
Together with her twin sister, Deirdre, she attended school in Broughty Ferry before graduating with honours in chemistry from the University of St Andrews.
Alongside her studies, Margaret also played golf for the university and entered and won the Miss Angus beauty competition in 1978.
During this time, she met her future husband Sandy, a solicitor, through Dundee Operatic Society. They were married at St Andrews University Chapel on September 19 1981.
Following her brilliant performance at university, Margaret was offered a funded PhD place at Cadbury’s. However, prioritising family life, she instead enrolled in teacher training in Dundee, gaining a Diploma with Merit, and then taught chemistry at Harris Academy.
With the arrival of children, Sandy, Tiffany, Alisdair, Dominique, Tanya and Danielle, Margaret turned to tutoring and subsequently trained as a clinical aromatherapist.
She then built a significant clinical aromatherapy practice locally, often dealing with referrals from Ninewells Hospital.
In 1999, with six children, the youngest under two, Margaret took the brave step of enrolling at the University of Dundee as a self-funded PhD student in medical research.
Unusually, she was able to fund her research by working as a consultant for a pharmaceutical company based in Oxford.
She broke new ground in her PhD, developing the first database for biomarkers of naturally occurring bioactive compounds in food – a major step forward in the use of diet to help prevent and manage disease.
Following graduation in 2003, she continued her work on biomarkers and became both a teaching and research fellow at St Andrews University.
She also expanded her research into integrative medicine with leading international colleagues, running clinical trials into the medicinal properties of the herb echinacea, and attending conferences around the world.
In 2007 Margaret returned to teaching, firstly at Arbroath High School, and then as head of science at Torry Academy in Aberdeen. She also taught at Perth High School.
Building on her academic experience, she took a pioneering approach to developing the education network between schools, universities and the wider public and private sectors.
Highlights from Margaret’s teaching included taking a group of Arbroath High School students to an international medical conference in Nuremberg – a first for the school; and leading a team of girls from Torry Academy to win a national prize for engineering. This was such an achievement that the school was visited by the Lord Provost of Aberdeen in recognition of Margaret’s work.
She went on to personally win a national prize for science education, presented at the Scottish Parliament in 2011.
From 2013, Margaret turned her focus to bridging the divide between science in academia, schools and industry, taking up roles as education coordinator for Scotland with the Royal Society of Chemistry, science education coordinator for Highland Council and, latterly, as teacher coordinator for the Royal Academy of Engineering.
She also lectured in science education at the University of the West of Scotland, and then lectured in chemistry at the University of Glasgow.
During this time Margaret developed the idea for, and then created, the hugely successful STEM Academy.
This was a unique approach to education, bringing together experts from industry, academics, secondary and primary school pupils and teachers, to enable each group to learn from the others.
When Covid struck in 2020, and despite beginning to battle serious illness, Margaret successfully moved the whole STEM Academy online so that science education was available to all, even when schools and universities were closed.
Notwithstanding her great achievements, Margaret always put her family first.
Dedicated caravanners, Margaret and Sandy and their six children could be found anywhere from Orkney, to Luxembourg, to St Tropez.
Margaret championed her family. All six children attended Monifieth High School, and Margaret was delighted that all followed in her academic footsteps by attending the Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, St Andrews and Aberdeen; and then pursuing successful careers across chartered accountancy, teaching, medicine, and the civil service.
Margaret was also delighted with the arrival of her two grandchildren, Isla and Jack.
You can read the family’s announcement here.