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Fulfilling Blooms

Photo by Marshall Clarke
Hopkins physicist Mark Robbins has turned what started as a casual curiosity about orchids into "an addictive hobby." Robbins started 12 years ago with just a handful of plants; today, more than 400 orchids spread throughout his house and Homewood office. Most reside in his basement, where circulating fans and automated fluorescent and high intensity halide lights maintain a precise environment. Robbins's blooms have won acclaim; his honors include an award of merit from the American Orchid Society and placing first, seven years running, in the Phalaenopsis category of the Maryland Orchid Society.

Cultivating orchids requires ample patience, he notes. The road from flask to flower could take three to 12 years, depending on the variety. And the blooms, he adds, last from a single day to six months. Simply watering all his prize-winning plants can consume up to an hour a day.

At Hopkins, Robbins attempts to understand the molecular origins of macroscopic behavior, such as the origins of friction. "The work I do is very abstract and theoretical. It's computer simulations mostly," he says. "Whereas orchid growing is my hands-on, experimental activity. It fulfills another type of need and interest for me."
--Greg Rienzi

Return to November 2001 Table of Contents

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