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Campus mourns death of researcher

Researcher Martin Hulak died last week at the age of 33, but his pioneering work will live on, say professors who held him in high regard.

Dr. Hulak, a post-doctoral fellow working with Hugh MacIsaac and Melania Cristescu at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, was found dead outside his Windsor home on Wednesday, August 29. A native of Slovakia, he started working on campus in March 2012.

Dr. MacIsaac described Hulak as very quiet but extremely competent and confident in his abilities, and predicted his meta-genomics approach will revolutionize how scientists look at aquatic ecosystems.

“Martin was using environmental DNA to identify species in samples of water and plankton gathered from Canada’s 16 busiest ports on each coast—Pacific, Atlantic, Arctic and the Great Lakes,” MacIsaac said. “His team extracted the DNA, sequenced it and cross-referenced it to online databases for species reported by colleagues around the world. Even in just a subset of the sample, he found anywhere between five and 10 times as many species, both natives and introduced aliens, as all traditional analyses combined. We think we’re picking up all the rare species you never find using the traditional approach of viewing samples under a microscope.”

Although Hulak’s teammate Aibin Zhan has left Windsor to take a faculty post in China, he has pledged to complete their project and see the results through to publication.

Dr. Cristescu called Hulak’s death a great tragedy, from both personal and professional perspectives.

“Martin touched all of us with his kindness, gentle nature, discreteness, professionalism, love for science and creativity,” she said. “He was very humble about his accomplishments and very much in love with his GLIER experience.”

Campus flags will be lowered Tuesday, September 4, in his memory. Funeral arrangements had not been finalized at the DailyNews publication deadline; friends and colleagues gathered Friday in the GLIER conference room for an informal memorial service.