Here is a link to an obituary of Mike by his great friend and collaborator, Dan Nilsson.
March 19th, 2021
Mike made more interesting discoveries in biology than just about anyone else I can think of. I count myself lucky to have known him while I was a PhD student at Sussex in the mid-1970s. He was kind to me and I have good memories of trips to pubs, innumerable lunches and playing music at his house. He would call me into his office and show me his latest discoveries. I recall an eye with 3 parabolic lenses (I still have a photo he gave me) looking for all the world like an expensive Leica – he told me it was a modified nose. And there was another beast with I think just one photoreceptor which was scanned back and forth. At that time I think he also discovered the box-faceted eyes of crabs and lobsters that have since served as an inspiration for the design of X-ray telescopes. Had Darwin and Mike lived at the same time I suspect Darwin would have paid a lot of attention to Mike’s work, no doubt via a gentlemanly exchange of letters. And perhaps he would have been a bit less puzzled by the human eye, considering the extraordinary variety of designs unearthed by Mike in other animals. Mike also belonged to that same British tradition of using simple methods combined with astute powers of observation and deduction. We could do with a bit more of that in these days when data is mined often without any clear idea of what to do with it.
In person, Mike reminded me a bit of a hobbit (I hope no one minds me saying this). I swear he had curly hair on his feet. It seemed to me that he had the same virtues as hobbits – good plain common sense, enjoyment of simple pleasures, a dislike of pretentiousness, a bit of stubbornness but not too much, perseverance and all those English virtues celebrated by Tolkien. It is too bad that he is no longer with us.
February 3rd, 2021
What a tremendous loss. And what a tremendous privilege to have known and worked with Mike. I met him during my PhD time at the MBA in Plymouth in 2001 … or rather, at the very end because he was my external examiner. Gosh was I nervous to meet the man whose mathematical model of multilayer reflectors I had incorporated into my research and I felt more than nervous about the risk of possibly not being able to recall details of this method off the top of my head. But he loved my thesis and the work I had done and I had a truly energizing viva.
After I finished my PhD, I joined Justin’s lab out in Brisbane and unbeknownst to me, Mike, Rosemary and Penny were there too. Mike was on sabbatical. Working with Mike was probably the high point of my post-doc time in Brisbane. We spent several field trips together on Heron and Stradbroke Island. On one particular evening on Straddie, Mike and I were standing at the fish tanks in the lab, each holding a beer (not sure how many we’d had by that point… we had spent the day collecting and setting up and had had an enjoyable “field trip style” dinner … probably pasta!). We were standing there, at the edge of this tank, staring at these fish. They were Paradise Whiptails, kind of simple fish, unless you start staring at them, the way we were doing. We didn’t say much, the water pumps were noisy and we were all pretty tired. All of a sudden, we looked up, and then looked at the fish again… it seemed like they had a colour changing stripe on their noses… Was that possible? Then Mike looked at me and he said: “I must have had too much to drink. Are you seeing this?” Well, fast-forward a few months and we had a paper in JEB about this story.
I wanted to become a scientist because of people like Mike. For me, personally, he set the standards on many fronts. Like finding a way to do science with the means available to you; only buying fancy equipment if you need to, being generous about sharing and discussing ideas, helping in a constructive way, seeing the big picture, even if you’re looking at a fraction of a snapshot. Last but not least, his bubbly personality and infectious sense of humor were one of a kind. He will be thoroughly missed.
January 20th, 2021