And then I suspect, if I had to guess, that I'll switch what I do eventually, that I'll think about something altogether new. It's not that I don't really enjoy studying channels, and there are problems right now that will keep me on channels. Some of these problems we just talked about that we're still working on, that keep me focused on them. But I think if we can solve these problems, I think I feel it would be a time for a change. I am not sure what that will be. I think it will always be biophysics, at the interface of biology and physics. That's what I like.
SA: If you could devise a magic machine that allows you to overcome the present limitations--technical limitations--what would you study? What questions would you like to solve if you had such a machine?
RM: The machine would be a way of producing crystals of the ion channels, very rapidly. That's a good question, and if I could have a magic one that would allow me to do that, allow us all to do that, it would be wonderful to immediately address some of these questions about, for example, how a voltage-dependent channel senses the membrane voltage. We could see a structure of one of those, and maybe its open and closed state. Then we would see, if [a part] moved across the membrane when it went from closed to open, that it carried some charges, and then we could immediately see how the membrane voltage can devise the conformational change of the protein. So I would like to have a machine that would allow us to very rapidly crystallize membrane proteins. That would be wonderful; a lot of people would love it.
In the long run, I don't know what machine I would want for the future, because I don't know what it is going be. But it's going to be something that's going to just grab me, one of these days, and I will want to know more about that.
SA: Let me ask you a little bit about your past, how you started your scientific career. How did you first become interested in science, and was there anybody who influenced you a great deal, say, before college and in and after college?
RM: I know I was always heavily leaning toward science and exploring things, even as a child. I was pretty curious about the way small things worked. I always liked puzzle solving; I liked to come up with an explanation to myself for how little things worked. But you know, it was nothing very directed. There were no scientists in my family. But I just know I loved exploring. When I was young I had a microscope, and I loved to peel blades of grass apart and actually look at the cells that the book told me should be there, and they really were. Or look at the microorganisms in pond water, and I found that fascinating when I was in elementary school.
I think when I really got turned on to science in a very serious way was when I was an undergraduate at Brandeis University. I really enjoyed my education there, and I think the person who has most influenced me is the person who subsequently became my postdoctoral advisor, Christopher Miller. But back in those days, when I went to college, he was my undergraduate advisor. He was a young professor, just setting up his lab, and you could tell he was really having fun at what he was doing, and I found him inspiring in his approach. I then went off to medical school, thinking I wanted to be a physician.