An Audacious Thinker
Martin was a graduate student in Dr. Kuperberg’s lab at Tufts when I joined as an undergrad RA in 2008. I came to know him as the guy who wrote scripts in Perl, drank tap water from a Pellegrino bottle, and covered for me the time I got stuck in traffic driving back to campus to run a subject. But of course he was much more than that.
One conversation with Martin stands out. We were outside, perhaps at a cookout, and I mentioned something I’d read about the role of flame cooking in the evolution of the human brain. Martin knew something about this question, and told me all about the chemistry of grilling meat, the ATP requirements of neurons, the relative evolutionary advantages of efficiency vs. security of the food supply, the relative costs of energy use vs. childbirth risks of large brains, and the joint implications of all these things. In retrospect, he was basically lecturing me, but it felt like a conversation.
Since learning of Martin’s death, I keep remembering that conversation, and I can guess why. Coming to college after years of listening to NPR on the commute to my cubicle job, I had a lingering assumption that serious thinking was a thing that smart people did somewhere else. Professors apparently did it, but I had no sense of when, where, or how. And then here was Martin, with a plate in one hand, casually integrating scientific knowledge from multiple fields, weighing evidence for competing hypotheses, drawing his own conclusions, and inviting me to participate.