Martin Lewis Perl was born on June 24, 1927, in Manhattan, . He enrolled in the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, now Polytechnic University, and began studying chemical engineering. His college career was interrupted by the start of . Perl joined the United States Merchant Marine. After the war, he returned to the Polytechnic Institute and received a bachelor degree in Chemical Engineering in 1948. Following graduation, he joined the General Electric Company, working as a Chemical Engineer in the Electron Tube Division.
The tau lepton, a subatomic particle uncovered by Martin Lewis Perl, was one of the biggest surprises in elementary particle physics in recent decades. Perl discovered this third type of lepton (the other two types are the lighter electrons and muons) at a time when there was no experimental evidence for its existence or any theoretical indication that a third 'family' of particles should exist.