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Profiles in Giving

Steven J. Eliopoulos, A89

At this exact moment a subatomic particle called a muon is passing through your body by the tens of thousands—and they’ve all died well before you could finish reading this sentence. The measurement of the lifespan of these invisible byproducts of cosmic rays “is a classic experiment that illustrates both some really interesting and unusual physics, and is also a nice example of the basic techniques that are used in a lot of different physics experiments,” says Roger Tobin, professor and chair of the physics and astronomy department.

Luckily for Tufts, more than 20 years ago Steven Eliopoulos, A89, created an apparatus for his senior thesis that measures that lifespan: 2.2 microseconds. Unlike the short-lived muon, and fortunately for physics students today, his apparatus is still running on all cylinders in the SciTech building.

“We try to have a range of measurement strategies and techniques that are important in various areas of physics that we teach the students,” adds Tobin. Eliopoulos’s project “is just a really clean, elegant example of one category of methods that are used.”

While the thesis has been moved, tweaked, connected to a computer, and, in some parts, even painted bright yellow, over the years it has been a point of pride for Eliopoulos to know that his machine is still being used by and supporting student researchers at the school he likens to “home.”

The Connection

Once just one of only four physics majors in his year bouncing cold fusion theories around in Bacon Hall, Eliopoulos is now a director and cinematographer for his media production company Gravity Inc., just down the road from the Medford campus. “Life sort of began in college, for me at least,” he says, and life has since continued to intertwine with Tufts, as has his love of physics.

Steve takes his children to the dining hall and celebrated his son’s birthday at a Tufts Men’s Basketball game. A former Tufts swimmer, Steve swims in the pool with President Monaco on Thursdays and other active alumni and Tufts staff. And while riding the bus to the Boston Marathon in 2006 as members of the President’s Marathon Challenge team, he and physics professor Bill Oliver, also a former mentor, chatted about black holes to psych themselves up for the race.

The Gift

The Steven J. Eliopoulos, A89, Endowed Fund for Undergraduate Research in Physics and Astronomy will support a Summer Scholar in the department of physics and astronomy. While a student, Steve was one of only two student researchers working on the Soudan 2 Proton Decay Experiment in a northern Minnesota mine, what he calls a very formative experience. “But this scholarship is about more than promoting undergraduate research,” he adds.

“I hope it will encourage even more of our students to become involved in research projects and hopefully do senior theses,” says Professor Oliver, “not because the department needs that, but because we know that’s one of the most important experiences that the students can have here at Tufts.”

Steve also knows his personal connection to the fund will afford the chance to keep him connected to the future of physics—the students.

“The reason I'm giving now as opposed to 20 years from now is that I want to enjoy getting to know these students,” says Steve. “I want to hear updates from them and see their projects. The best part of doing it now is that I'll be able to enjoy this for a long time.”