By Connie McDougall

Photos by Greg Schneider

"You told a young boy in the Peruvian Andes that God is a physicist. I never forgot."

Jeff George (pictured above) included this dedication to friend Mark Roberts in his award-winning doctoral thesis. The son of missionaries, George lived in Bolivia and Peru as a child. It was in Peru that his passion for physics began to take hold. Roberts, a fellow missionary, not only encouraged the missionary kid's interest in science, but helped him to see that "the importance of science is what it shows us about God."

Chris Langer '99 is one of the authors of a lengthy letter on "Experimental Entanglement of Four Particles" published in the March 16, 2000, issue of Nature. To see the most recent issue of Nature online, click here.

As Seattle Pacific contemplates the construction of a new science building, it's increasingly clear just how well the sciences have flourished at the University over the years, even with sometimes modest facilities and equipment. One indication of that success is the achievements of SPU graduates. In the last two years alone, for example, three alumni physicists have received high-profile recognition for their professional work.

Jeff George, who graduated from Seattle Pacific in 1990, received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington and now holds a position at the California Institute of Technology studying galactic cosmic rays. His doctoral thesis, which resulted from a neutrino-detection experiment, earned him the UW Physics Department's top award: the Henderson Prize for the outstanding thesis in the 1998-99 academic year. Conventional scientific wisdom over the last 50 years had assumed that neutrinos did not have mass; George was part of a large project in Japan that proved otherwise.

A Seattle Pacific alumnus of another decade, Philip Marston '70, received two honors this year: Washington State University's Sahlin Faculty Excellence Award, as well as a $625,000 NASA grant to support his ongoing research. Marston, a professor of physics at WSU, has worked with NASA for a decade, studying the behavior of fluids in low-gravity situations. The NASA funding allows him to make final tests before his experiments will likely rocket to the new International Space Station.

With a degree from SPU in 1999, Chris Langer is the youngest of the three. He was part of a group of scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, to publish in the March 2000 issue of Nature, "the international weekly journal of science." The work could eventually be prize-winning material, says SPU Professor of Physics Robert Hughson, and might one day result in the "quantum computer," a machine able to compute problems now considered unsolvable.

For the SPU professors who taught all three physicists, it's a thrill to see their success. "I suppose the ultimate goal is for the student to surpass the teacher," says Hughson. "We have many students who have done just that." "It is very satisfying," admits Roger Anderson, emeritus professor of physics. "Sometimes it's a struggle to get students motivated, but then there comes along these special people who are really inquisitive, very curious. It's a delight and deeply rewarding."

Hughson remembers the individual personalities of the three alumni, going back to Philip Marston, who began visiting the Seattle Pacific Physics Department when he was a high school kid. "Phil grew up a block from the college. He would just show up and ask questions. I guess you could call him precocious," says Hughson.

Marston, who is related to the SPU pioneer C. May Marston, recalls the "small town" atmosphere of Seattle Pacific in the '50s and '60s. "There was a significant pool of resources and talent in the Physics Department. It paid off for me," he adds, explaining that he went on to do his graduate work at Stanford University.

Anderson remembers Chris Langer as a "brilliant" student who used to "pick the brain" of Professor Jim Crichton after class. Although Crichton died last December, his legacy continues through the successes of Langer and others. "Jim was like a private tutor for Chris," says Anderson. Langer is now studying for a Ph.D. in quantum physics at the University of Colorado.

Jeff George knew he wanted to be a physicist from the time he was 10, and his determination was legendary at Seattle Pacific. "He knew exactly what he wanted, and he came here and just plowed through," recalls Hughson.

The credentials of SPU's faculty and the small size of science classes benefited each of the alumni physicists, they say. They were able to spend quality time with their mentors. George remembers that every Monday afternoon, Crichton and other professors would drive across town to a seminar sponsored by the UW Physics Department. Often, George and other students would tag along. "I'd ride in the car and listen to their discussions. Plus I got to hear some famous people at the seminars."

He also remembers with gratitude how his SPU professors "bent over backward" to get him ready for graduate school, and he feels close to his alma mater today, as do the other two men. In fact, Langer hopes to come back and teach at Seattle Pacific one day, and Marston's son and daughter will attend SPU this fall.

All three have a special appreciation for the profundity of studying God's handiwork. Indeed, George dedicated his doctoral thesis to a friend of his, a missionary and amateur scientist, saying, "You told a young boy in the Peruvian Andes that God is a physicist. I never forgot."

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