Rich Mooi studies the origin and evolution of echinoderms—a group that includes sea urchins and starfish. For more than 30 years, Rich has been finding both fossil and living new species and charting relationships among these highly diverse organisms using sophisticated microscopical and more recently, molecular techniques. Rich acquired B.Sc. (1981), M.Sc. (1983), and Ph.D. (1987) degrees from the University of Toronto, then spent 2 years as a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution learning field and collections-based techniques. He has 85+ papers on subjects such as the origins of radial symmetry in ancient echinoderms, Philippine sea urchin diversity, sources of deep-sea faunas, the theory of phylogenetic systematics, origins of language, and how to unlock the mystery of how creatures as bizarre as starfish evolved from worm-like forms half a billion years ago.
Along with attempting to piece together the entire echinoderm phylogenetic tree, Rich is also attempting to determine all the known sea urchin species from the Philippines. He has found that the Philippines is home to more urchin species than any other place on Earth. There are more sea urchin species in 15 kilometers of coastline than exist in the entire Gulf of Mexico. Rich is a strong believer in disseminating research findings in biodiversity, evolution, and sustainability. To this end, he administers the Academy’s undergraduate research and biological illustration internships, and helped create content, scripts, and illustrations for unique online biodiversity videos using the Khan Academy platform.