Memories of Professor Martin Brent Halpern

Memories of Professor Martin Brent Halpern

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Scott Locklin has written a blog about Marty Halpern.


As a graduate student, I met with Eyvind once a week to discuss my dissertation research.  Our meetings usually lasted from 8 am till 5 pm, with no break for lunch and interrupted only by the occasional student asking about a problem set.  We simply sat together at the blackboard, first pondering my latest result and then each of us scribbling and critiquing new ideas to explore our growing understanding of the relation of Tomita-Takesaki theory to the CPT transformation.  I left each meeting with a clear strategy to move forward.  These marathon sessions in a smoke filled room (Eyvind’s pipe and cigar and my Winstons) are among my happiest and deepest experiences of collaborative physics. He still looks over my shoulder as I try to do physics.

~Joe Bisognano


I will address Marty’s adolescent years, before most of you had met him.

I met Marty in Tucson in 1951 when we were both attending one of the first bus-integrated schools in the country, Roskruge Jr. High School, approximately ten years before bus integration became commonplace in the United States., and three years before the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. 

Concurrently, we were both in Boy Scouts, in which we both attained the rank of Eagle.  At the time, I was 11 and he was 12, and I was in 7th grade and he was one year ahead of me.  We were bus integrated several miles because Arizona eliminated segregated schools, abolishing the longstanding single race school, Dunbar Jr. High School, named after the great African-American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar.  At the time, many parents protested the bus-integration, however we kids were fine with it, developing multi-ethnic, multi-racial friendships.

Although I am a card-carrying member of Mensa, I can unequivocally state that Marty was the single smartest person that I have ever known.  The early fifties were the golden age of comic books.  Marty and I both subscribed to several comics, including Superman, the Marvels (including Captain Marvel), and Mad Comics (precursor to Mad Magazine).  We dovetailed our subscriptions by trading them at lunch time at Roskruge.
In those days kids would often send in cereal box-tops and small change in exchange for various comic book or radio program hero merchandise.  One of Marty’s disappointments was sending in for an offer of a “working” Dick Tracy 2-way wrist radio, only to find out, on receipt, that it was bogus.  He never forgot that inequity and social injustice.

However, while waiting for our next month’s subscriptions to arrive, Marty came up with the bright idea of occupying our lunch period playing board-less Chess.  We would visualize the board and call out our moves.  When the bell rang, we ran into our classes, but remembered our respective board positions in order to resume our game the following day.  Occasionally I won, but more often than not, Marty did.

One year at Boy Scout summer camp—Camp Lawton on Mt. Lemmon, we read up on hypnotism.  We enjoyed dabbling with self-hypnosis, and occasionally put each other “under,” enjoying planting post-hypnotic suggestions into each other.  We never did so maliciously or harmfully—nothing strange.

It has been documented that Marty won a Westinghouse science award building a computer, years before the first digital computers existed.  As I recall, it played tic-tac-toe, and always won or tied, using wired circuits.  However, in a page from the movie October Sky, Marty had his own backyard rocketry program.  He obtained chemicals with which to launch his rockets from chemical supply houses.  One time, a pipe-bomb (Potassium Chlorate and Red Phosphorus) exploded, his hands were severely burned, and were bandaged for months.  After his retirement, we reminisced about that period of his life, and were amazed that the supply houses even sent a kid his age dangerous propellants.  Shortly before his death, we mused that today Homeland Security would be knocking at your door if you placed an order like that.

Although we kept in touch periodically, especially since both of my sons did their pre-med at Cal, but we reunited face-to-face in 2012 when I was in the Bay Area for another purpose.  Shortly thereafter, he retired to Tucson, and we often spoke on a weekly basis.  I remember the first time that I called him using “windshield time.”  Marty immediately recognized that I was multi-tasking, and not giving our conversation my full attention, although I thought I was doing fine. He called me out on it.

Marty was a great guy, and a good friend.  Weekly phone calls with him are still missed after 2-1/2 years.

~Bob Tretiak