Samuel Ramsey Ph.D. ’18
By Allison Eatough ’97
 
At age 7, Samuel Ramsey knew he wanted to study insects. But at age 6, the entomologist, who conducts pioneering research to save honey bees, said he was “terrified” of bugs.
 
“I was afraid to go outside. I didn't want to do anything in recess. I wanted to be indoors, away from insects. I was having nightmares about them on a regular basis,” he said. “It was a legitimate, irrational fear.”
 
Ramsey’s parents, avid readers, told him people fear what they don’t understand. They took him to the local library, signed him up for a library card and encouraged him to pick out some books on bugs.
 
“It worked a little bit too well because that same summer, I spent every day checking out insect books,” Ramsey said. “I had gone through all of the kid non-fiction for entomology and started moving into the books for older people. By that time, I told my parents, ‘I want to be an entomologist when I grow up.’”
 
A decade later, Ramsey got his first paying job in the field he loved. The then-high school student collected Colorado potato beetles for Galen Dively at UMD. Ramsey went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in entomology from Cornell University and his Ph.D. in entomology from UMD. 
 
Now an entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, Md., Ramsey is studying parasites that threaten the honey bee population. He is building upon research he conducted in grad school, which found Varroa mites feed on a honeybee organ called the fat body — not the bee’s blood as researchers have believed for decades. 
 
“Honey bees bring in about $18 billion every year to the U.S. economy, and then you've got a parasite that is implicated in destroying honey bee colonies to the tune of 33 to 45% per year,” Ramsey said. “That's really problematic.”
 
Ramsey and fellow scientists are exploring more effective ways to combat the mites and, as a result, preserve honey bees.
 
To recognize his groundbreaking work, the Alumni Association honored Ramsey as a recipient of this year’s Research Award.
 
“Congratulations to Sammy on this well-deserved recognition,” said Steve Fetter, associate provost and dean of the Graduate School. “We were thrilled when he won both the Judge's Prize and the People's Choice Award in the Universitas 21 3-Minute competition, which represented international recognition of his research talent and dedication. Sammy skillfully engages general audiences and describes his research in a clear and compelling manner — still evident in his frequent media appearances. I enjoy keeping up with him, and am proud to count him among our graduate alumni.”  
 
Ramsey remains busy as a, well, bee, with his newest research centering on the tiny Tropilaelaps mite. The parasite, found in China and South Asia, is slowly moving west and can decimate honey bee colonies. The USDA sent Ramsey to Thailand in 2019 to study the parasite and explore ways to control it.
 
“If the creature arrives and then we start figuring out what we can do about it, sometimes that delays us so much that we can't eradicate the creature before it becomes established,” he said. “It’s the worst time to be trying to figure out what your emergency response plan is when somebody is yelling, ‘Fire!’”
 
He returned to the United States last spring due to COVID-19 restrictions, but hopes to resume his research in Thailand within the year.
 
To read more about Ramsey’s research, visit https://cmns.umd.edu/news-events/features/4314.
 

University of Maryland graduates are among the best and brightest in their fields. From scholars and innovators to entrepreneurs, teachers and researchers, our alumni are leaving their mark in our state, nation and the world. The Alumni Excellence Awards provide an opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of select Terps, and honor these recipients with distinction. Careful consideration was made in selecting our 2021 recipients across four categories: Rising Terp Award, Research Award, EnTERPrenuer Award and Legacy Award.

The Research Award honors an alumnus/a whose research has made a significant impact on the university, the state and/or the nation. Up to three Research Awards will be granted annually, celebrating a Terp/s whose research is transformational.