About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member every two weeks — same questions, different answers.
Doug Martin’s combination of curiosity and scientific know-how has made him a key member of Lawrence University’s physics department since 2007.
He teaches courses ranging from optics to quantum mechanics to experimental physics, among others. A biophysicist, his scholarly interests focus on the mechanics and dynamics of cellular processes — transport, motility, division and signaling — that explain how life works.
Physics faculty keep student connections alive amid distance learning.
Originally from Denver, Colo., Martin earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in mathematics and physics at Pomona College and completed his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Texas.
We caught up with Martin to talk about his work in the classrooms and labs of Lawrence and his interests away from campus.
In the classroom
Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?
I love physics. I’m astonished that we can understand the natural world, quantitatively, with relatively simple mathematics. I’m delighted by new discoveries – from the physics that causes flower petals to curl to the Higgs boson. And, more to the point, I think every Lawrence student is an intuitive physicist, whether they appreciate it or not. Music, sports, visual art – all involve physical processes that we grasp intuitively. So, why do I want students to know this? Because, despite the grind of mathematics, abstract reasoning, spatial visualization, approximation, and the worry about understanding, the worry about belonging – all the things that come along with a physics class – my hope is to help students in my classes claim or reclaim delight in physics.
Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?
Teaching! Whatever I’m teaching next is the best. As I answer this, I’m preparing to talk about diffraction and why optical telescopes are now 100 feet across, and why a radio telescope the size of the earth was necessary to capture the first image of a black hole. Why is teaching what gets me most excited? I have the privilege of teaching about our endlessly amazing world, and every class is an opportunity for me to recapture wonder. What could be better? Well, sometimes building microscopes is better, because then I get to see new things, too.
Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional or spiritual) that took you by surprise?
This is a hard question for me to answer because I’m a little surprised by almost everything. So, let me pick an easy, Lawrence-centric, example. I taught at the London Centre in the fall of 2018. The surprise? How great it was. I’d thought: London is in an English-speaking country, how different will it really be? Here are two quick examples. First: one of my classes decided we should meet in a different coffee house every day, from the delightfully named Fuckoffee to the café in an abandoned public toilet to the crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. With all due respect to Acoca and Lou’s, these are something new. Second: everything was at our doorstep. Theater? A dozen premiere shows every night. The world’s oldest sewage plant? Yes! Museums? Free! Paris? Eurostar departs a 15-minute walk from the dorms. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised at how rich the experience was, but I was.
Out of the classroom
This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?
I really don’t know. Maybe working at a national lab doing fundamental research. Maybe calibrating the machines used in radiation therapy at a hospital. Maybe developing medical lasers. These were opportunities in the past, but now? Could be almost anything.
Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?
Bjork! The physical separation from home and office seems to let me leave stresses behind and just be present. My sense is that something like that is true for students too, so it makes it easier to interact informally.
One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?
I’m pretty voracious when it comes to all three, so let me pick something good and recent, for me.
Book: White Teeth, by Zadie Smith. It is set in London, so all of the exploring my classes did there took us to the neighborhoods in the book. And it is laugh-out-loud funny. And it borders on the strange line between the horror of watching a car crash and the very sweet.
Recording: The Pet Shop Boys have a new album, Hotspot. I have a lot of nostalgia for the musicians of my childhood, and the Pet Shop Boys still put on a pretty good show. More to the point for this question: they’ve crafted an album that (after a bit of a rocky start) moves really well, from dance-y start to warm and fuzzy finish. And I’m old enough to enjoy entire albums at one sitting.
Film: Spaceballs. What can I say, Rick Moranis is a comedic genius. Or maybe that my laughter at this movie reveals that I am a 12-year-old at heart.