Martin Wells

A teacher, leader, champion, and scientist. 24 August 1928 — 1 January 2009

A teacher, leader, champion, and scientist. 24 August 1928 — 1 January 2009

It is with great sadness that I post this from the Other 95%…

I received the sad news today that Martin Wells, imminent biologist, one of the founders of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge and, a great friend of the cephalopods and all marine invertebrates, has passed away at the age of 80. Son of H.G. Wells, Martin was a highly accomplished biologist who was especially inspired by cephalopods and other marine invertebrates. His wonderful book Civilization and the Limpet portrays his love marine life. While aimed at the general audience, it should be, in my opinion, required reading for any future (or current) marine or invertebrate biologist, indeed it would be good for anyone with any interest in biology. The first time I sat down with it, I read it in one evening, it is that readable and good.

Wells’ papers were some of the first and most inspirational I read as undergraduate contemplating a career in Marine Biology.  His thoughts continue to influenced my own even as I moved away from cephalopod research.  I agree with Eric’s statement that Civilization and the Limpet is one of the best book written on the subject.  I have reposted my review of the book from last year…

Kevin was nice enough to send a copy of the Civilization and the Limpet by Martin Wells. Although aware of Well’s research, I was wholly unaware of this book. I triumphantly finished it yesterday and am admittedly impressed. The book is unabashedly Mollusc as Wells’ research is largely on Cephalopods. Much of the book also centers on physiology again because of Wells’ background. Each chapter is a stand alone narrative utilizing his experience to discuss adaptations in marine organisms and instill passion for the ocean. The book geared for the public possesses nuggets of wisdom even for well-read experts. One of my favorite chapters discusses the rise and fall of cephalopod rule of the oceans. Additional favorite passage is

Neither biological research nor college administration pays very handsomely, but when you come down to it, it is very marvelous thing that the world is prepared to pay at all for the like of us to spend so much of our lives in the study of anything so inherently interesting and outright beautiful as animals. In the bad times, I try to reflect on that. And there are bad times, just as in any other creative activity. Research is like painting pictures. The product hardly ever turns out quite as well as one might have hoped; it can be maddeningly frustrating; and one spends a lot of time simply cleaning up the equipment. But once in a long while everything goes really well, and this euphoric. And even in the bad time one is adding something, however slight, to the sum of human knowledge. Some poor people work just as hard and all they make is money.Definitely a recommended read.

Dr. M (1729 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (, connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.

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One comment on “Martin Wells
  1. With the news yesterday, we have begun to read Civilization of the Limpet as “bedtime books”. The chapters are perfect length for Johann.

    Among my favorite Quotes about my chosen pursuit came from Wells: “Biologists suffer from paranoia, frustrated ambition, angst about their sex lives, lack of hard cash, and all the usual frets that beset mankind. But they are not bored.”

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