Ask anyone who's ever worked with or studied under Bucknell University Professor Chris Martine, biology, and they'll tell you about the genuine passion Martine has for science. When he isn't discovering new species as far away as Australia, getting an advanced database of plant DNA off the ground, or mentoring dozens of undergraduate students, it's likely you'll find the David Burpee Chair in Plant Genetics & Research penning a thoughtful essay about science education for The Huffington Post or retweeting a new discovery on Twitter (@MartineBotany).
In September, Martine was recognized for his efforts to promote his discipline within and beyond the walls of Bucknell's Rooke Science Center with a 2016 Passion in Science Award. The prize, one of 15 presented by life science research company New England Biolabs, recognizes Martine for his mentorship of students and advocacy for the life sciences, in particular for his efforts to spur interest in botany and the wonders of biodiversity through his YouTube series, Plants are Cool, Too!
"I am especially pleased because this award program was established as a way to recognize efforts that we don't always consider standard practice for scientists," Martine said. "So much of the work I do in the hope of engaging students and the public could easily be dismissed as peripheral to the scientific enterprise — but this program counters that notion. That's really encouraging."
Martine's students say they've learned the importance of being advocates for science from the Bucknell professor.
"His passion for science, biodiversity and teaching is contagious," said Nicholas Diaz '17, who has worked in Martine's lab since his sophomore year and accompanied Martine's postdoctoral researcher, Jason Cantley, on a field research trip to Hawaii."I had always thought of botany as a quiet field, and as a reserved and quiet person with a passion for plants, I thought I had found my home. One of the first things that I realized after meeting Chris was that botany was anything but quiet. Not only has he inspired me to believe in the merit of my work, but also how critically important it is to effectively communicate it."
"His comfort in front of a crowd is something I strive to attain as a scientist — giving awesome, absorbing presentations that people from many different fields can understand and get excited about," added Emma Frawley '17, who has also worked in Martine's lab since her sophomore year. "One major thing I've learned from Dr. Martine is the importance of communicating your research to the world around you."
One of the ways Martine encourages students to speak out about their work is by publishing original research and presenting that research at professional conferences. For several years, he has taken a contingent of students to the Botanical Society of America's annual conference, one of the most important gatherings of botanists in the world, where they have been recognized for the high quality of their research.
At the most recent conference, held this summer in Savannah, Ga., Martine brought six students and recent graduates, including Alice Butler '16 and Meghan Garanich '16, who were honored with awards for their work: Garanich as having the best undergraduate presentation in the field of ecology and Butler as one of two recipients of the Undergraduate Research Prize from the American Society of Plant Taxonomists. Butler and Garanich also received Young Botanist Awards for accomplishments throughout their undergraduate careers, Nathan Luftman '17 received an undergraduate research grant from the society, and Postdoctoral Fellow Jason Cantley received the Margaret Menzel Award for best paper in genetics.
"Through his mentorship I've co-authored two publications describing new species," said Frawley, who also attended the conference and this summer earned a prestigious internship at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History. "This is a process that rarely happens for undergraduates. It's why I believe I was successful in getting a major internship outside Bucknell, and something I know will pave my way to graduate school."
Martine also enables his students to immerse themselves in the real-world work of scientists by assisting him in his research (which focuses on members of the eggplant family), pursuing their own botany research in his lab and even bringing students with him on research expeditions into the Australian Outback.
"I spent a month doing field work with Doc Martine in Australia this past May. He taught me immensely valuable field research skills as well as how to deal with various situations in the field and traveling abroad," said Mae Lacey '16, who also works in Martine's lab. "Doc's passion for his research was apparent no matter where we were on our field expedition — he was constantly asking new questions, developing new research ideas, and becoming extremely excited as he identified the various Australian flora that surrounded us."
Martine said he is pleased to be recognized for his science advocacy, but also noted his approach to teaching inside and outside the classroom and excitement for his subject are not unique at Bucknell.
"The Passion in Science Awards are meant to acknowledge just the sorts of things that liberal arts minded teacher-scholars at Bucknell strive to embody and are supported in pursuing," Martine said. "You want to see inspiration? Creativity? Interdisciplinarity? That stuff is our bread and butter!"