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News > OV Interviews > Robert P. Lowndes OV1958

Robert P. Lowndes OV1958

Robert Lowndes (OV1958) tells us a little about his life in Boston.

Statue of baseball pitcher Cy Young, former President of Poland Lech Walesa and OV1958 Bob Lowndes
Statue of baseball pitcher Cy Young, former President of Poland Lech Walesa and OV1958 Bob Lowndes
After completing my PhD doctoral research at Queen Mary College, University of London, and at the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge, I accepted an offer in 1967 of a 2-year postdoctoral fellowship at M.I.T. The opportunity to work at M.IT., generally ranked as one of the top universities in the world, and to live in Boston was an opportunity not to be missed.

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Boston is an amazing, wonderful, and diverse city. It has an extraordinary history being the scene of many key events of the American Revolution. It has many firsts for the United States: the first public park (Boston Common in 1634), the first public school (Boston Latin in 1635), and the first subway system (Tremont Street in 1897).


Over the past 60 years or so, Boston has become the major center in the US for scientific research and high technology, especially now in biotechnology, medicine, and information technology. There are some 8 major universities in the Greater Boston area, and more than 100 other colleges and smaller universities, all of which make it a world leader in higher education, and a powerful driver for Boston’s global leadership in innovation and entrepreneurship.


Boston has an amazing array of fantastic museums and a world class Boston Symphony Orchestra. But Boston is a sports mad city! Much to the angst of the rest of the United States, the Boston teams in American sports - baseball, American football, ice hockey, and basketball – are routinely winners and have won some 13 championships in their respective sports just over the last 15 years. Each win is celebrated with a duck boat parade through the city.


Boston drivers are renowned within the US for their aggressive driving. Fortunately, my time driving in London has given me a competitive advantage!


With all these advantages, it was easy for me to decide to stay in Boston at the conclusion of my M.I.T. position and to accept a professorial position at Northeastern University (NU) in Boston.


In my early days at NU I was focused on teaching and research. My research was focused on far infrared and laser Raman spectroscopy of materials under very high pressures and at very low temperatures using techniques I had developed in London. One of my early research activities involved being selected as part of a small group in the U.S. to work on the moon rocks brought back on the Apollo missions. This brought me into frequent contact with astronauts such as Jim Lovell, Wally Schirra and others at the NASA Space Center in Houston.


At some point I was lured into academic administration and held positions as Head of the Physics Department, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Interim Provost, and Vice Provost for Global Relations. The College of Arts and Sciences was the largest college on campus with some 25 departments and research centers and more than 350 faculty. The Provost was the second in command for the University with an operating budget of some $250 million. The VP for Global relations was a new position to develop international relationships and programs; during my time in that position we were awarded the two major US awards for internationalization – the NAFSA Simon Award and the IIE Heiskel Award.


These administrative positions brought me into frequent contact with people like Senator Ted Kennedy, Senator John Kerry and Governor Michael Dukakis. After his US Presidential run, Mike Dukakis joined NU as a Distinguished Professor in my College of Arts and Sciences -so he was reporting to me as the Dean! - and we became very good friends and colleagues. They also brought me into contact with world leaders such as Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa and Bill Clinton, and world-renowned scientists such as Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman.


Bishop Vesey Grammar School was an amazing and excellent preparer for my life both in providing a superb and broad academic foundation, and also in providing an environment to encourage initiative, competitiveness, and entrepreneurial skills. I am extremely grateful to Mr. John Crook and Dr. T. Felsztyn for their teaching and enthusiasm which motivated me into going into physics. I am also extremely grateful to Mr. Norman Jackson for his extraordinary ability to successfully teach the difficult subject of mathematics. I am also very grateful to Mr. Robert Wallace for his geography classes which have played no small part in my international interests and travel, for business and pleasure, to more than 90 countries. I am very grateful to Headmaster Geoffrey Cross for his Latin classes which provided an amazing foundation for subjects on many fronts including a subsequent learning of Russian. But probably the most important teacher was Mr. Ron Homer for his English classes - the ability to present and write proposals and reports has been key to much of my research, teaching, and administrative work life, and Mr. Homer’s classes in language and literature were an enormous foundation for these.


One of the key skills that I acquired at BVGS was competitiveness. The House sports competitions in rugby, cricket and athletics were fantastic in this regard. One of my great friends, classmate Bill Ward, was an essential component to becoming competitive in any activity whether on the slip cradle or at snooker (prefects had access to the snooker table)! The ranking in academic subjects and overall in classes was very key.


Finally, the many school activities played an important part. For example, based on just two visits to the debating club, I was picked to be part of the School’s two-person debating team. We competed in the Midlands championship and won! This debating ability has served me well in my academic work. Not mentioned above was the fact that I was elected to be the Vice Chair (the Provost is the Chair) of the Faculty Senate at NU some six times (a record) because the faculty trusted my skills to win the day with the Administration!!
 

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