This month we'd like you to meet element14 Community's  Member of the Month for September: m.ratcliffe

element14: First of all, congrats on being names element14 Community’s Member of the Month for September!

m.ratcliffe: Thank you, It is a great surprise because I never knew there was such a thing.


element14: What originally brought you to the Community?

m.ratcliffe: I had used a couple of Arduino blogs on the site before but the motivator to sign up was the vertical grow challenge. I live and breathe automation/control and aquaponics this seemed like a great opportunity to use some high end electronics and blog about some of my work in the area.

element14: Tell me a little bit about how you got interested in electronics?

m.ratcliffe: Until the age of 21 I would consider myself a computer-phoebe, using my laptop mainly as a coffee mat, Then I saw a tutor flying a Quadcopter and got  hooked!  with a lot of help from the tutor [Bob Mackin of Lancaster University] I overcame the phobia and  five years later I have automated and optimized many of the time consuming jobs on the farm and house, moving my area of expertise from mechanical engineering to control system engineering [Its much more Fun].

Does anyone else here on the forum remember that one person that got you hooked?

element14: What do you do professionally?

m.ratcliffe: Graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Masters in Electrical Engineering currently finishing my gap year and taking some time to design an automated greenhouse and small allotment type garden to provide a yearlong hassle free supply of food and a test bed for novel nutrient sourcing aquaponics grow system.

This is a great opportunity for a Shameless Plug:

I am looking for a PhD/Job in automation and control systems, preferably in regard to farming but open to offers. Willing to commute/relocate worldwide for the right position.

Take a look at the website below for CV, Reference and examples of work:

I’m running quite a few scientific experiments on fish feeding and hydroponics EC optimization, all results will be released publically. If you know of any funding please drop me an email/message.


element14:  Walk me through your involvement in the Vertical Farming Design Challenge. Can you talk a little bit about why you applied and how you arrived at your project submission? 

m.ratcliffe: I have been toying around for years with aquaponics/hydroponics and more recently [12 months ago] started to work on some of the areas that I found the hardest automation wise:

  • PH Control
  • PPM control
  • Fish Feeding

This work was already in progress before seeing the Vertical Challenge, So I submitted a small portion of the work and was lucky to get into the challenge. I’m glad the forum is finding the work interesting!  I had quite the head start on most of the other challengers, it is great to see their blogs coming along so quickly.

element14:  What has been the most challenging part of the Design Challenge so far?

m.ratcliffe: Finding a reliable PH meter [I Have had no luck with these]. Take a look at the group project:

Open Source Chemical  Analysis [Everyone Welcome]

I am hoping we can build a chemical analyzer that will output PH from a solid state device and will last more than a month [my current record for a Ph meter]. Anyone is welcome in the discussion above, so if you think you could help or are just interested join the group.

element14:  Can you talk about some of the other projects you are working on?

m.ratcliffe: I have around 30 projects running at this time all at various stages. Don’t worry I wont be listing all of them. Many if not most of my projects and their codes/schematics are released under Gnu, so don’t be afraid to take them and build upon them.

Here at element14:

Automated Green House Blog's Home Page

Animated_Grim Blog: Home Page 


  • BLDC Motor simulation [Wanting to remove the need for a dedicated starter motor for cars/bikes]
  • Pasture management Vision based
  • Vison based animal tracking and health alter
  • Pi Car computer and quad copter base station

The projects are generally related to world hunger ,flying things or BLDC motor applications.

element14: Walk me through your routine on the site, what spaces do you check? Who do you follow?

m.ratcliffe: My first check is usually the Arduino forum to see if I can help with some ones code problem if they have posted a question with enough info to work with, I remember asking for help in the past and never getting a reply [not here at element14], I’m quite good at Arduino related work and can usually find the problem is a few seconds and fix it in a few minutes, So they can move onto their next project and not give up on the Arduino.

The Next step is to see what DAB has commented on any of my posts, the feedback from this guy is great and it is good to know that my blogs are getting read. I would also like to thank RWReynolds and CharlesGantt or their interest in my projects.

I also check out some of the other blogs on the Vertical Farming to see what problems people are having and to see how they overcame them. Then it is onto checking the RoadTests & Reviews I’m really short on electronics gear and these are a great opportunity for people in my position.

element14: What advice would you give someone new to the element14 Community?

m.ratcliffe: If you are writing a blog do a video overview, your work might be great but I find it hard to read without first understanding the basics. When asking a question about a problem with your code, include enough information for someone to help [Code, Library sources, wiring diagram and list of hardware].  Get active on the forum, someone here will be interested in your projects. Mine are on fish, which has got to be near the top of the boring list and people still take an interest.

element14: Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions, any parting words?

m.ratcliffe: No thank you element14! . The competitions and RoadTests really put this site at the top of my favorite electronics forums. In short keep up the great work.

One thing I would like to see is a part of the community where one could start a project/discussion and have a whitelist of people who could edit/update the discussion as they saw fit.  This would make working on a group project quite a lot easier, unless there is already such an option?


element14: Thanks!


m.ratcliffe has shared a video summary of the interview. Enjoy!