Romanian-born husband and wife overcome obstacles to earn doctoral degrees in physics


On Dec. 17, an extraordinary couple received the coveted doctoral hood. Having defended their Ph.D. dissertations the past summer, the ceremony put the finishing touches on the shared quest of Luminita and Dorin Todor - to establish a better life for themselves and their family in the United States.

Earning a doctorate in physics is no small feat in itself, but for this husband and wife from Romania it was truly an amazing accomplishment, as well as a remarkable story of coming to America.

Luminita Todor arrived at Old Dominion in January 1995. In true pioneering spirit, she had left her husband and children in Romania, hoping to pave a way for them to follow. At the time she left her beloved Romania, life had grown bleak there and there were limited opportunities in physics, especially for women.

Luminita had grown up with a love for physics. She won first prize in the Physics National Olympics in Romania. But in a country struggling with socio-economic problems, investment in basic scientific research was low on the priority list.

Realizing that her natural gift for science might be wasted if she stayed, she applied to study at Old Dominion. Besides the rigorous educational challenges of graduate study, she faced the nearly overwhelming tasks of having to adapt to a new language, culture and way of life.

Despite the culture shock, the loneliness and the strenuous course requirements, Luminita was more determined than ever to succeed. As the months passed, she grew more and more impatient to have her family join her

Finally, they received word that Dorin had been accepted into the physics program, too. In late summer of 1995, Luminita, Dorin, Alina and Horia were reunited. It was a joyous time for them as well as for many in the physics department who had grown anxious to see the family back together.

Their progress over the next five years was amazing. All four of them excelled at their respective educational endeavors. A major hurdle for Luminita and Dorin, as for all students in a doctoral program, was to decide on a specific research area and find someone willing to advise and mentor them through the process.

Luminita already knew that her strength and interest was in experimental nuclear physics, and she began work with the experimental nuclear group at Old Dominion, with Charles Hyde-Wright as her primary adviser. Her work involved research at the Jefferson Lab and led to her being awarded a Southeastern Universities Research Association Fellowship in two consecutive years. She also received the Luise Meyer-Schutzmeister Memorial Award for her achievements as the outstanding female graduate physics student nationally.

Dorin, with Gary Copeland as his primary adviser, worked out a program of research to find better ways to determine the effectiveness of radiation treatment. In addition to taking classes and pursuing his research, he worked as a graduate teaching assistant. His special contribution to the physics department was his assistance in the implementation of new undergraduate teaching laboratories.

While coming to America received comic treatment in the old Eddie Murphy movie, life for Alina and Horia, who were only 7 and 8 when they first arrived, was more a serious venture in an unfamiliar country. Despite the challenges, however, both children excelled in their new surroundings and were accepted into Norfolk Academy, based on competitive exams. It was all the more remarkable considering the language challenges they faced.

It was not uncommon to see them quietly sitting in an evening physics lecture with their parents when they were too young to be home alone.

With school completed, last fall brought more change to the Todor household. Dorin relocated to New York to take a postdoctoral position at Memorial Sloan Kettering, where he will continue working on a new way of measuring the effectiveness of radiation treatments on cancer patients. Luminita remains in Hampton Roads and continues her work in nuclear physics at the Jefferson Lab as a postdoctoral research associate of Carnegie-Mellon University. Horia and Alina continue their studies at Norfolk Academy.

Luminita now has the responsibility of the children while Dorin is in New York. Both are working hard to establish careers, but the family must endure the difficulty of another separation for the time being.

The Todors, like many pioneers before them who struggled to succeed, no doubt will make valuable contributions to their adopted country, and will contribute to science and mankind in an even greater way.

Through it all they have never looked for excuses or an easy out. They have always been grateful for their opportunity and appreciative of the support and encouragement they received from friends and colleagues.

They are proof that success as a family is better than success as an individual.

Walt Hooks is the operations manager for the physics department, where he has worked since 1989. Retired from the U.S Navy as a master chief petty officer, he has received both a master's in international studies and an M.B.A. from Old Dominion. TOP