Martin A. Buzas, 1934-2022
It is with profound sadness that we share the news of the death of Martin A. Buzas, Curator of Foraminifera in the Department of Paleobiology. Marty was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, received his B.S. from the University of Connecticut, his M.S. from Brown, and his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1963. He arrived at NMNH that same year and occupied his office in the northeast corner of the first floor of the East Wing for the next 59 years. Throughout his career as Curator, then Senior Scientist, then Curator Emeritus, Marty used “big data”, much of it generated by his own observations, along with rigorous statistical techniques, to understand the ecological structure of benthic foraminiferal communities and species distributions in space and time. He used experiments, long-term surveys, and fossils to study forams from the salt marshes to the deep-sea, from scales of millimetres to thousands of kilometres, and over time periods from seasons to tens of millions of years. He showed how the same quantitative techniques could be applied to other groups of organisms not blessed with such ubiquitous fossils and large sample sizes. His work, including his book Surveying Natural Populations (written with Lee Ann Hayek), has been highly influential in both palaeontology and biology. Marty’s many accomplishments, and his role as one of the first to bring quantitative methods to palaeontology, were recognized by his peers with the presentations of the Brady Medal of the Micropalaeontological Society (2016), the Paleontological Society Medal (2004), and the Joseph A. Cushman Award for excellence in foraminiferal research (2004).
Although Marty devoted himself to research, he also played an active role in shaping NMNH culture. He was one of the young curators in the 1960s who advocated powerfully for academic freedom and independent basic research at the Smithsonian – arguments that found a receptive target in Secretary S. Dillon Ripley. Marty and others founded the NMNH Senate of Scientists to uphold these ideals’ importance. Marty remained a strong and sometimes sharp-tongued defender of freedom of research throughout his time as Paleobiology’s Chair (1977-1982) as well as later in his career. Marty influenced the wider field not only through his research but also through teaching and mentoring. He was unstintingly generous with his younger colleagues, taught classes at the Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University, and was a primary mentor or thesis committee member for many grad students and postdocs. Marty hosted a regular lunch around a table in his lab for decades, the conversation sprinkled with the dry witticisms and wisdom of this brilliant but unpretentious ‘regular guy’ from Bridgeport. Marty’s career advice to his colleagues was this: “Seize a new space and weld seemingly disparate disciplines together…This approach…runs a higher risk of failure, but the thrills it provides are well worth the risk. Should I search carefully for collaborators, paying attention as to how their expertise would benefit my research? No, interesting colleagues with fascinating ideas surround you at this very moment.” Marty, and his confidence in his colleagues, will be greatly missed.
Written by Brian Huber