Adam December 31st, 2020

Eulogy for Mike, by Professor Daniel Osorio - words spoken at Mike's funeral Mike was a very fine scientist. To explain things from the eyes of deep-sea creatures to where cricketers look when they bowl, he built the equipment needed and made the measurements necessary. His writing and talks were beautifully clear, often with mathematical accounts. He had no patience with complication or vagueness – which in our field often comes dressed up as theory. Any interested person could understand his discoveries. These are rare qualities in science, where most of us work as specialists within teams, and are easily dazzled by the parts of the subject we know least. This does not mean that Mike was a scientific loner – as you in the family know well. Mike loved the companionship and stimulation of his collaborators, who often became friends. Whether working on beaches with John Layne and Lydia Mathger, or on deep sea voyages with Ron Douglas and Julian Partridge. He got to know his collaborators, and was fascinated by their lives and family backgrounds. He made people of all kinds feel comfortable, both personally and intellectually. Although we knew he was cleverer and more knowledgeable than us, it never felt like that. As a teacher and mentor he helped many of us develop, find research questions and build careers. At the start of this year Tom Cronin and Justin Marshall visited this country to collect a major prize for research on Mantis shrimps, which was started in 1988 by Mike’s invitation to Tom to work in Sussex, where Justin was his student. The party at Rosemary and Mike’s home with the Marshall and Cronin families was a wonderful occasion, simply enjoying the companionship of friends. To my mind the nearest that Mike had to an equal was Dan Nilsson, who shared his love of simplicity, precise thinking and naturalist’s mind. Some people might have seen the likes of Dan as a rival, but not Mike. Their mutual admiration led to some lovely discoveries and the book on Animal Eyes which in a century will still say all at that almost anyone can know about how animals reflect and refract light to make images. Mike disliked pomposity and pretentiousness, and enjoyed being a little subversive. With Tom Collett he showed that the rules flies use to follow other flies – in pursuit of a mate - were far simpler than the fourth order non-linearities proposed by the famous scientist Werner Reichardt. Apart from questioning the formidable mathematical model, Mike and Tom had the impertinence to study their flies with an ordinary camera under a table lamp, rather than precision-built fly flight simulators. Mike was invited to explain himself at Reichardt’s institute in Tubingen. It was an unpleasant experience for Mike, who had no time for people who exploited their status as scientific bullies. The event was remembered so well that when I visited Tubingen a decade later two professors apologised to me – then a student - for his treatment. I expect they admired Mike’s pluck, and perhaps were envious that he could explain his work without risking his livelihood. In the 1990’s Mike’s interest in where animals look moved from flies to Humans, and once again his work took an iconoclastic turn. He found that we look at points of direct relevance to our actions in a predictable way. This straightforward account contrasted with models involving information theory and lots of brain centres. I’m sure it was no accident that he chose to study the most mundane of tasks – making tea. Since he died many people have remembered how Mike changed their lives, but his qualities of informality and inspiration touched many more. Mrs Alex Fenn a technician at Sussex University wrote to say ’he always stopped to say Hello in the corridor when we passed’ and Sarah Garfinkel said a psychologist that as a teacher Mike fostered a real culture of intellectualism and inclusion that was very special, Alan Kingstone from Vancouver said ‘in my early days as a scientist, he very generously spent an afternoon chatting with me and giving me advice on how to move my own work forward.’ Speaking more personally, my interest in insect vision was largely sparked by those flies under the table lamp, so I was delighted when I moved to Canberra for my PhD in 1982, to find Mike there. To start my research we did a little project on butterflies which taught me the art of electrophysiology and the science of optics. Moving to Sussex a decade later with Mike and Tom was like joining the team. He wasn’t someone to offer advice, but one quickly knew what he thought about any matter, and his outlook was always wise and well-judged. Like many I will miss him very much, and I offer my condolences to you all.