Max Helmberger is a Ph.D. student in Entomology at Michigan State University. He is a soil invertebrate ecologist who currently studies their interactions with microplastic pollution. He grew up in an off-the-grid log cabin on a dirt road in the woods outside a small town in northern Minnesota, earning a Bachelor’s in Biology from University of Minnesota Duluth and a Master’s in Entomology from Cornell University. Outside of research, he is passionate about education and science communication, producing clay animation videos and an educational card game about soil ecology and biodiversity. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, card and video games, and creative writing. Website:

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Early Bird

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?


3 Do you have any pets?


4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?

Clay soil animal models

5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?


6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?


7 Do you speak any other languages?


8 If you could switch professions, what would you do?

Novelist (still possible)

9 If you could switch science fields, what field would you want to work in?

Extremophile microbiology

10 If you got a plane ticket right now, where would it go?


11 If you had one superpower, what would it be?

Ant-Man-style shrinking

12 Is there anything you strongly recommend we watch and/or read and/or listen to?

The Citations Needed podcast

13 It’s your day off. What do you want to do?

Depends on the weather

14 What are three things you can’t live without?

Pasta, cheese, and maple syrup (not all at once)

15 What beverage gives you life?


16 What book did you read in school that positively shaped you?

Child of the Dark Prophecy by T.A. Barron

17 What did you want to be when you grew up?

A forensic analyst

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

A desire to prove myself

19 What got you excited in science?

A bunch of college field biology courses offered through my high school

20 What excites you about science now?

The discovery process

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

Bad action movies

22 What is a secret talent of yours?

Writing without difficulty

23 What is your favorite game?

Magic: The Gathering

24 What is the last book you read?

The Secret Commonwealth by Phillip Pullman

25 What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?

“In ecology, we weigh things”

26 What is something you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to do?

Practical jokes on politicians

27 What is the best advice for your 18 year old self?

Always start with a preliminary lab experiment.

28 What is the best way to de-stress?

Listen to music

29 What is the last thing you watched?

The X-Files

30 What is the weirdest thing you’ve had in your bag?

A bunch of clay insect models

31 What is your favorite animal?

The pseudoscorpion (specifically Microbisium brunneum)

32 What is your favorite book?

The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman

33 What is your favorite comfort food?

Macaroni and cheese

34 What is your favorite day of the year?

July 4th

35 What is your favorite plant?

The Dragon’s mouth orchid (Arethusa bulbosa)

36 What is your favorite science fact?

Mother Jamaican bromeliad crabs provide their developing larvae with needed calcium by dropping snail shells into their nursery pools

37 What is your favorite season?


38 What is your favorite smell?

Fresh-cooked porchetta

39 What is your favorite sound?

Pagan Revolution by Elvenking

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

High cold tolerance

41 What is your favorite word (in any language)?


42 What is your proudest moment?

Getting accepted to Cornell University for my Master’s

43 What kind of tree would you be?

A white pine

44 What’s the best thing about where you live?

The holy trinity of campfire tree species: Paper birch, balsam fir, and jack pine

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

Ground pine spores are a low-grade explosive when mixed with air.

46 Who would you like to see 46 Questions interview next?

Dr. Zoe Getman-Pickering (@Herbivory1) or Ariana Hernandez (@ariana_h9)