Doctor Who?! Robert Marsland III (’07) earns PhD in Biophysics at MIT

Ambrose alum, Robert (Bobby) Marsland III, is now a post-doctoral scholar at Boston University, after successfully defending his PhD thesis in late May at MIT.  Prior to joining the lab of Jeremy England at MIT, Robert spent a year at Oxford University studying the logical structure and historical origins of the core areas of modern physics. Robert obtained his bachelor’s degree in physics at Princeton University, where he carried out experiments in the statistical physics of atomic gases.

In his research, Robert uses the insights of contemporary physics to unpack the molecular-level observations that are being carried out with ever increasing precision in living cells. By combining the latest developments in theoretical statistical mechanics with numerical simulations of model systems and analysis of high-resolution microscopy data, he hopes to contribute to a deeper understanding of the physical mechanisms of life, opening new pathways for medical intervention and biotechnology.

Robert cites his St. Ambrose Academy (SAA) education as instrumental in shaping his scientific intrigue and pursuit:

“My love for natural science flourished at SAA, starting with those awesome experiments in Mr Gillett’s physical science class. The best one was making hydrogen from water with electricity. We took apart some D cell batteries and stuck the graphite cores into a milk jug, to make conducting electrodes that wouldn’t corrode. Then we plugged the jug into the wall, and collected the gas bubbling from the two electrodes into flasks. Finally, we lit the hydrogen flask on fire, proving that we had obtained the desired products. I had read about this reaction many times, but was amazed to see it actually work!

Another stimulus was Ms. Lesperance’s advanced Biology class. My mind was blown by the incredible complexity of the cell, and those memories stuck with me all through my physics training at Princeton.

But what I’m most grateful for is the solid training in Catholic doctrine I received at SAA, along with abundant opportunities to deepen my personal relationship with God. I think one of the main obstacles to the advance of science in recent decades has been the error of confusing our abstract scientific models with reality – thinking that quarks and electrons are more real than trees and rocks. This places a severe constraint on scientific creativity that especially limits the development of the life sciences. Faith forces us to recognize our littleness before the mystery of reality, and keeps us open to new ways of looking at things. I’m thrilled to now be working at the cutting edge of theoretical biology, where my job is precisely to come up with these new and hopefully more powerful perspectives.”

Given his mature devotion to our Catholic faith, it’s not surprising that in addition to his scientific work, Robert serves as assistant director of Elmbrook Center near Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.  Elmbrook is an educational center for young men; helping prepare them to become dedicated professionals who thrive in work and life and who advance their profession as a service to persons and society. The Center is entrusted to Opus Dei, a personal prelature of the Catholic Church. Robert’s role as assistant director will make a lasting impact on these young men that will reach far beyond work and this life. His time as a Guardian is now leaven for the East Coast as well.

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