ELIAS PANAYIOTIS GYFTOPOULOS
A tribute to his life and work
Video recording of the memorial event
hosted by the Athens MIT Club
Athens, Greece, September 19, 2012
pronounced in the MIT Chapel on October 9, 2012
Eulogy by Alex Moissis on the day of the funeral
Born: July 4, 1927 in Athens
Citizenship: United States (1963)
Address (former): Home: 241 Tower Road, Lincoln, MA 01773
Office (former): MIT Room 24-111, Cambridge, MA 02139
Telephone No. (former): (617) 253-3804
ScD in Electrical Engineering, MIT, February 1958
Diploma in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, National Technical University of Athens, June 1953, including 5 Student Awards
Greek Navy, 1948-1951 as Electrical Engineer
Professor Emeritus, September 1996
Ford Professor of Engineering, Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Nuclear Engineering, MIT, July 1976
Ford Professor of Engineering, Department of Nuclear Engineering, MIT, November 1970
Acting Department Head, Department ofNuclear Engineering, MIT, 1968-1969
Professor, Department of Nuclear Engineering, MIT, July 1965
Associate Professor, Department ofNuclear Engineering, MIT, July 1961
Assistant Professor, Department of Nuclear Engineering, MIT, July 1960
Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, MIT, July 1958
Instructor, Department of Electrical Engineering, MIT, February 1955
Research Assistant, Department of Electrical Engineering, MIT, September 1953
Robert Henry Thurston Lecture Award of ASME, 2002
Edward F. Obert Award of ASME, 2001
Honorary Doctorate, University of Patras, 2001
Academic Achievement Award, American Hellenic Institute, Washington, D.C., 2000.
Doctor of Engineering, honoris causa, Dalhousiei University Polytechnic, Halifax, Canada, 1997
Personal Achievements Award, Hellenic Spirit Foundation, St. Louis, Missouri, 1997
Commander of Order of Honor awarded by the President of the Republic of Greece, 1996
James Harry Potter Gold Medal of ASME, 1995
Honorary Doctorate, National Polytechnic of Athens, 1992
Fellow, American Society Mechanical Engineers, 1986
Member, National Academy of Engineering, 1981
Corresponding Member, Academy of Athens, 1970
Fellow, American Nuclear Society, 1966
TV Shares Management Corporation Award for excellence in teaching, March 1957 as a Graduate student
Elected by the students Outstanding Professor of Nuclear Engineering, 1972
Elected by the students Outstanding Professor of Nuclear Engineering, 1992
The Ruth and Joel Spira Award of the School of Engineering for Teaching Excellence, 1994
Tau Beta Pi
Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1966
President, International Center for Applied Thermodynamics, 1998-2005
Associate Editor, Energy-The International Journal, 1998-2006
Honorary Editor, International Journal of Thermodynamics, 1998-2006
Chairman, Committee on Nominations, MIT, 1990-1993
Chairman, Interschool Working Group on Context Subjects, MIT, 1986-1988
Working Group on Engineering and Humanities Education, MIT, 1985
Chairman, Committee on Discipline, MIT, 1983-1986
Faculty Chairman, Sustaining Fellows, MIT, 1979-1990
Member, Energy Task Force, Commission on Socio-Technical Systems, National Academy of Science, 1975-1977
Member, Committee on Nominations, MIT, 1975-1978
Chairman of the Faculty, MIT, 1973-1975
Member (1973-1975) and Chairman (1975-1976), Honors and Awards Committee, American Nuclear Society
President, Faculty Club, MIT, 1971-1973
Chairman, Committee on Discipline, MIT, 1971-1972
Member, Committee on Discipline, MIT, 1969-1971
Member, Commission on Education, National Academy of Engineering, 1971-1974
Member, Committee on Student Environment, MIT, 1963-1966
Member, Committee on Educational Policy, MIT, 1963-1966
President, "Helicon" Association, Boston, 1965-1966
Vice President, American Society for Hellenic Culture, Inc., Boston, 1964-1967
Member, Committee on Objective Criteria in Nuclear Engineering Education, ASEE and American Nuclear Society, 1962-1964
Editor, Thermionic Specialist Conference IEEE, 1965-1966
Vice President, American Hellenic Educational and Welfare Fund, Inc., New York, 1961-1965
Member, Board of Directors, American Nuclear Society, 1966-1969
Vice Chairman (1968-1969) and Chairman (1969-1970) ANS Aerospace Division
Member, Executive Committee, Aerospace Division, American Nuclear Society, 1965-1968
Member, Nominating Committee, American Nuclear Society, 1963,1965
Member, Standards Committee, American Nuclear Society, 1964-1990
Member, Education Committee, American Nuclear Society, 1964-1965
Chairman, Program Committee, American Nuclear Society, 1962-1964
Member, Program Committee, American Nuclear Society, 1960-1962
Director, Board of Boron Neutron Cancer Foundation, 1998-2001
Director, Thermo Bioanalysis Corporation, 1995-2000
Director, Thermo Lyte Corporation, 1995-1999
Director, Thermo Lase Corporation, 1994-2001
Director, Thermo Cardiosystems Corporation, 1994-2001
Director, Thermo Voltek Corporation, 1994-1999
Director, Thermo Remediation Corporation, 1994-2000
Director, Thermo Spectra Corporation, 1994-2000
Trustee, Anatolia College, Greece, 1971-1987
Vice Chairman, Board of Trustees, Anatolia College, 1987-2000
Chairman of the Board of Directors, Mercantile Bank, 1987-1990
Director, Thermo Instrument Systems Corporation, 1986-1996
Director, International Institute of Energy Conservation, 1985-1995
Director, New England Nuclear Corporation, 1980-1982
Chairman, National Energy Council of Greece, 1975-1978
Advisor, National Energy Council of Greece, 1978-1981
Director, Thermo Electron Corporation, 1976-2001
Trustee, American Farm School, Greece, 1976-1985
Trustee, Hellenic College, Brookline, MA 1972-1980, 1996-1997, 2000
U.S. Delegate, 2nd International Conference on Thermionic Electrical Power Generation, Stresa, Italy, May 1968
U.S. Delegate, 3rd International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, Geneva, Switzerland, September 1964
Technical Program Chairman, ANS Annual Meeting, Boston, June 1962
Scientific Advisor, Greek Government, 1961-1963
Thermo Electron Corporation, Waltham, MA
High Voltage Engineering Corporation, Burlington, MA
Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, L.I., NY
Phillips Petroleum Company, Atomic Energy Division, Idaho Falls, Idaho
Savannah River Laboratory, Aiken, SC
Combustion Engineering, Nuclear Division, Windsor, CT
Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, Livermore, CA
Colt Industries, New York, NY
Exxon Enterprises, Florham Park, NJ
Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM
Inst. Para Technologico, Madrid, Spain
Italian National Research Council, Rome, Italy
M. von Spakovsky
International Journal of Applied Thermodynamics, September (2001)
The following describes the memorial event hosted by the Athens MIT Club at the Eugenides Foundation in Athens, Greece on September 19, 2012. Watch the video recording of the event. Read below the text of the eulogy pronounced by MIT Professor Richard Lester.
Ο αείμνηστος Ηλίας Γυφτόπουλος υπήρξε σημαντικός ακαδημαϊκός, δημιουργός, δάσκαλος μα πάνω από όλα εξαιρετικός άνθρωπος. Γεννημένος το 1927 στην Αθήνα, ολοκλήρωσε τις βασικές σπουδές του στο Εθνικό Μετσόβιο Πολυτεχνείο και μεταπήδησε το φθινόπωρο του 1953 στο Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) όπου αναγορεύτηκε Διδάκτωρ το 1958.
Μετά την ολοκλήρωση των σπουδών του παρέμεινε στο MIT ως καθηγητής στα τμήματα Μηχανολόγων Μηχανικών και Πυρηνικής Επιστήμης & Μηχανικής μέχρι την συνταξιοδότηση του. Κατά την διάρκεια της ακαδημαϊκής του σταδιοδρομίας διακρίθηκε για τη συνεισφορά του στον τομέα της Θερμοδυναμικής και τιμήθηκε με δεκάδες επιστημονικές διακρίσεις. Πέραν της εξέχουσας ακαδημαϊκής του καριέρας, ο Ηλίας Γυφτόπουλος συμμετείχε στα Διοικητικά Συμβούλια πολλών επιχειρήσεων αλλά και μη κερδοσκοπικών ιδρυμάτων.
Διατέλεσε σύμβουλος διαφόρων Ελληνικών Κυβερνήσεων σε θέματα ενέργειας όπου εισήγαγε την έννοια της εθνικής ενεργειακής στρατηγικής. Παράλληλα, συμμετείχε ενεργά στην Ελληνική κοινότητα της Βοστόνης, συμβουλεύοντας αναρίθμητους Έλληνες φοιτητές στα πρώτα χρόνια των σπουδών τους στην ευρύτερη περιοχή. Πέθανε τον Ιούνιο του 2012 στη Βοστόνη.
Με την βοήθεια τριών μελών της κοινότητας του ΜΙΤ που τον γνώριζαν προσωπικά, του καθηγητή Richard Lester, Επικεφαλής του Τμήματος Πυρηνικής Επιστήμης & Μηχανικής του MIT, του Δρ. Ιωάννη Παπάζογλου Διευθυντή Ινστιτούτου Πυρηνικής Τεχνολογίας και Ακτινοπροστασίας του Εθνικού Κέντρου Έρευνας Φυσικών Επιστημών «Δημόκριτος» και του Δρ. Γιώργου Κριεζή, Τεχνικού Διευθυντή της ναυτιλιακής εταιρίας Neptune Lines, o Σύλλογος Ελλήνων Αποφοίτων του MIT προσπαθεί να σκιαγραφήσει την πολύπλευρη προσωπικότητα του εκλιπόντος κατά την διάρκεια εκδήλωσης που φιλοξενήθηκε στο Ίδρυμα Ευγενίδου στις 19 Σεπτεμβρίου 2012. Ο καθηγητής Lester, o οποίος συνδέθηκε μέσω skype από την Βοστόνη, μίλησε για το διεθνές ακαδημαϊκό του έργο, ο Δρ. Παπάζογλου περιέγραψε την εκτενή συνεισφορά του στην διαμόρφωση του ελληνικού ερευνητικού και ενεργειακού τοπίου και τέλος ο Δρ. Κριεζής αναφέρθηκε στην ζεστή φιλοξενία που πρόσφερε απλόχερα σε όλους τους Έλληνες φοιτητές που έφταναν στην Βοστόνη. Την εκδήλωση έκλεισε με ένα σύντομο χαιρετισμό η κόρη του Ηλία Γυφτόπουλου, Ρένα.
I’m both very grateful and deeply honored to have this opportunity to share with you a few reflections on the life of Professor Gyftopoulos, whom I knew for nearly 40 years as a mentor, a colleague, a friend, and – always – as a teacher.
Elias was one of the foremost thermodynamicists of his time. He was also a wonderful human being.
I’ve been asked to comment on his academic contributions, and of course I’m glad to do so, but at the same time I would like to reflect a little on his extraordinary human qualities – since his life and his work were in so many ways indivisible.
It’s unfortunate that I cannot be with you in person, but it is good that the technology can at least bring us together electronically.
There is, as a matter of fact, something a little paradoxical about today’s event in that regard, an irony that I suspect Elias himself might have enjoyed. On the one hand, this is an event that joins Greece and America – a union that was so very central to Elias’s entire life. On the other hand, it does so with the assistance of a technology that Elias was never very comfortable with. Despite his prominence at one of the world’s great technological universities, Elias didn’t really like information technology. At one point he did get a personal computer – one of my predecessors as Department Head felt that he ought to have one. But for years it sat on the outer reaches of his desk, neglected and forlorn. There was simply no way that Elias was going to give up his pen and his pad of paper, from which so much of value flowed over so many years at MIT.
The broad outlines of those wonderfully productive years are well known. Arriving on MIT’s doorstep as a young graduate student in 1953 following service in the Greek navy. Graduating with a doctorate in electrical engineering five years later. Immediately joining the MIT faculty, initially in the Department of Electrical Engineering and shortly afterwards with a primary appointment in the then-just-established Department of Nuclear Engineering.
A rapid rise to full professor.
In 1970 being named Ford Professor of Engineering, and in 1976 accepting a second faculty appointment in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Serving with distinction in many important administrative positions at MIT, including Chairman of the Faculty.
And, of course, throughout this entire period excelling in his teaching and his research.
In his research, Professor Gyftopoulos made major contributions in a remarkably broad range of fields, including nuclear reactor dynamics, control, and safety; surface physics; plasma physics; thermionic energy conversion; industrial energy conservation and energy efficiency; and, of course, underlying so much of this work, the science of thermodynamics.
Elias’s interest in both nuclear engineering and thermodynamics was kindled early in his career as a doctoral student in electrical engineering, when he took a survey course on nuclear reactors. His interest in dynamics and control led him to propose to Manson Benedict, the head of the MIT nuclear engineering department, that a course on reactor control be offered. To his surprise, Benedict asked him to organize such a course, which he developed and taught as a full-term course while still a graduate student.
As a young faculty member Elias was one of the pioneers in applying methods for analyzing the stability of non-linear electrical systems to the stability problems of nuclear reactors.
His interest in nuclear reactors caught the attention of Professor of Mechanical Engineering George Hatsopoulos, who proposed to him to investigate whether reactors could be used as thermionic energy converters to convert nuclear energy directly into electricity. Elias pioneered the development of fuel elements for such reactors, which combine fissile material with a thermionic cell for converting the heat of fission to electrical energy.
This is a technology that became of great interest to the space exploration programs of the United States and Russia, many of whose interplanetary missions over the decades have used nuclear thermoelectric generators. And as we watch today the astonishing images beamed back from the surface of Mars by the Curiosity Rover it is of course the closely related technology of radioisotopic thermoelectric generation that is the steady, reliable power source for this marvelous mission.
George Hatsopoulos’s invitation to Elias to explore the technology of nuclear thermionic conversion was the beginning of an enormously productive professional partnership and a deep friendship between the two men that lasted for the rest of Elias’s life.
In the course of the study that Hatsopoulos had suggested, Elias identified several contradictions and inconsistencies that had permeated the understanding of thermodynamics and physics for decades. And, with Hatsopoulos’s support and collaboration, he began further research to reconcile these issues. This effort to generalize the foundations of thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and quantum mechanics so as to be able to treat, in a uniform manner, systems with few or many degrees of freedom, open or closed systems, stable or unstable states, and reversible or irreversible processes, became a major focus of his research for the next 30 years, working in the later years with Gian Paolo Beretta, initially his student and later his colleague. The development of this general theory was a remarkable intellectual accomplishment. It is fair to say that this theory did not gain the acceptance in his lifetime that Elias would have preferred, but it was surely indicative of his broad and deep knowledge and his outstanding intellect.
And in this regard I note the commendation that Elias received from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers on the occasion of the award of the James Potter Gold Medal, the Society’s highest award in the field of thermodynamics. The commendation cited Elias’s work in – and I quote -- “advancing the theory of thermodynamics to a new level, while clarifying basic concepts that had been generally misunderstood and while unifying the subject with quantum mechanics, and for the application of the science of thermodynamics in mechanical engineering, to industrial energy conservation, to energy policy, and to specific new technologies.”
There were, of course, many other honors and awards. The Thurston Award, again from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, for his ‘landmark contributions to thermodynamics’. Several honorary doctorates. Membership of the National Academy of Engineering. Corresponding membership of the Academy of Athens. A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
And many more.
But, impressive as this list of awards is, it doesn’t come close to fully capturing the man.
When I met him for the first time, he was only 46. I can hardly believe it now. He seemed so grand, so worldly, and – it must be said – so intimidating. And so much older than 46!
I myself was just a 20-year-old student. So my ideas about what ‘old’ meant were rather different from what they are today. But I was right about one thing: even at 46 there was indeed something quite grand about Elias. He was a dignified, commanding man.
But in another way I was quite wrong about him. There was nothing intimidating about Elias. He was certainly a powerful presence. And he was an exacting man – with exceptionally high standards for his students, his colleagues, and himself. And sometimes he would become a bit annoyed by those who, unlike him, were not curious about the world, or who were not seeking to better themselves. You should always try to better yourself, he insisted.
But he was not at all an intimidating man. On the contrary, and as I quickly learned, he was warm, and charming, and extraordinarily generous with his time. And he was a true gentleman, a term that – sadly – has gone out of fashion, but which exactly describes the courtesy and consideration that characterized Elias’s relations with his colleagues.
Above all, he was a wonderfully dedicated teacher. He once confided to his friend Triantaphyllos Akylas that he had never once missed a lecture to attend a conference or to travel for other reasons. He loved to explain, and he put enormous amounts of time into making things clear for his students. He loved to help them reach a deeper understanding. And he was never satisfied, either for himself or for his students, with a superficial knowledge of a situation. If you could go deeper, it was imperative to do so. This was exhilarating. Of course, it could also be exhausting.
Especially if you were his daughter! One of his daughters, Maro, recently told a story about how, while still in grade school, she had gone to him with a math problem, and, for her troubles, received a lengthy lecture which started with Euclid, and went on from there.
But that was Elias. And in this story I think there is a key to understanding his scientific contributions. Just as he insisted on introducing Maro to Euclid to solve her grade school homework problem, so did he also insist on the importance of truly understanding the underlying physics of the science of thermodynamics. In his talks, he would quote, disapprovingly, a statement made by the physicist Arnold Sommerfeld.
“The first time I studied thermodynamics”, said Sommerfeld, “I thought I understood it except for a few minor points. The second time, I thought I did not understand it, except for a few minor points. The third time, I knew I did not understand it, but it did not matter, since I could still use it effectively.”
But for Elias, it really did matter. He didn’t think it was enough to know how to use knowledge effectively. He firmly believed that the real rewards lie beyond the domain of present use – no matter how effective that is.
In this, his model was the great French engineer and physicist Sadi Carnot, often called the father of thermodynamics. Carnot was motivated by the achievements of pioneering engineers like James Watt -- engineers who, without the benefit of any systematic body of theoretical knowledge, had nevertheless managed to bring about remarkable improvements in the efficiency of their primitive heat engines. It was Carnot’s achievement to understand in a fundamental way what they had done, and in so doing, to lay the foundation for future, much greater improvements in the performance of heat engines.
And so, there was Elias, in one of the last scientific talks he would ever give, expressing his gratitude to the pioneering energy systems engineers of the past, and promising – and I quote – “that we will make every effort to understand the beautiful and powerful subject of thermodynamics so that we can continue the productive tradition established by the pioneers.”
Here we see Elias’s view of technical progress, and of his own role in it -- the continual cycling back and forth between practical advances and theoretical discoveries, between practice and theory, theory and practice – and the profound connection between scientific discovery, in all of its power and beauty, and the more mundane but essential process of economic advance.
All of this may sound rather abstract, I’m afraid. And it is certainly important for us not to lose sight of Elias the man.
The man who loved to argue and debate – whose own grandson described him, with great affection, as an intellectual provocateur.
The man who loved the parry and thrust of faculty meetings, where he would delight in correcting the logical errors or historical inaccuracies of his colleagues, and pretend to be annoyed at interventions he regarded as unworthy, but always with a twinkle in his eye.
The man who, at the beginning of an important lecture at MIT, could always be found in the front row, turning around and inspecting the gathering audience, with his magisterial gaze – a look that somehow managed simultaneously to convey his approval of those who were there and his disapproval of those who weren’t.
The man who radiated the sort of well-being that can only come from living in a house full of women who loved and doted on him – his wonderful wife Artemis, and his three beautiful daughters.
The man who was loved and respected by generations of Greek students at MIT.
To borrow a phrase from Tom Wolfe, this was truly a man in full.
And I want to close with a quotation about Elias from one of his predecessors as chair of the MIT faculty, the late Professor Harold Mickley, who once wrote: “Men like Elias are priceless. He is a true scholar, with a deep sense of responsibility, indeed devotion, to MIT.”
I cannot think of a finer epitaph for Elias.
Best wishes to you all, and thank you for allowing me to be with you.
The following are the texts of the eulogies pronounced during the memorial service held in the MIT Chapel on October 9, 2012.
I first met Elias in the autumn of 1958 on what was literally a royal occasion! Queen Frederica of Greece together with her daughter Sofia, now Queen of Spain, visited MIT and the two young MIT Greek-origin Professors, Hatsopoulos and Gyftopoulos, were asked by President Stratton to act as their escorts. An orange-juice cocktail for all Greek students was organized and yours truly, with my late wife who had been classmates with Princess Sofia, were invited to attend.
A more personal meeting took place a few months later at the drug store that used to be on Mass Avenue across the street from the Institute’s main entrance. Elias approached me and invited me to become a member of a group that he had put together in order “to do something good for Greece”. According to Elias it was the Queen that had incited this idea into his mind.
This “something good”, was to convince the MIT Center of International Studies to undertake a study for Greece’s economic development. These were the days before Thatcherism or Reaganomics, when the route to economic advancement was believed to be through five year development plans. The MIT Center was already famous from having prepared such programs for India and for Italy’s South.
Elias approached the Center’s Head, Professor Max Millikan and Professor Rosenstein-Rodan, the expert in the field and succeeded to obtain their support. They in turn secured financial support from the Rockefeller Foundation. Immense time and money (from Elias’ very limited personal funds at the time) was spent on travel to Greece, to meet with dignitaries at all levels, including Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis, also the latter’s later successor Andreas Papandreou at Berkeley.
All was in place except for a small detail: The MIT Center wanted to have a letter from the Greek Government, inviting it to undertake the study and promising supply of data and moral support.
That much desired letter was never written and the effort was eventually aborted.
Aborted but not without leaving behind it a very important by-product: As I have already mentioned, Elias had put together a team of young Greek faculty members or graduate students who met every Friday evening after class. There, each of us contributed our knowledge in our particular field, thus informally preparing ourselves to play a role in the program development, if and when it was to take effect. The by-product from that small Friday-evenings group was that
· two of its members were later to become Greece’s Finance Ministers,
· one a Governor of the Bank of Greece,
· at least one President of the Athens Polytechnic,
· and one Governor of the Public Power Corporation.
But the greatest and very grateful beneficiary of all was I, who became the closest of friends with Elias and Artemis. Their home in Lincoln was my home on this side of the Atlantic and my home in Marathon their home in Greece. And I got to know Elias well and hear the story of his life, related from him with humor and passion and sometimes, in later years, with multiple repetition.
Elias never knew his mother. She died of tuberculosis when he was still an infant and he related his only memory of her as a white figure waving at him from the Sanatorium window. He grew up in his father’s, kyr Panagis, home-cum-tavern-cum grocery store. Elias’ brilliance was first evidenced by his ability to add the bill as fast as the grocery basket was being filled up. The location in what was then a good Athenian neighborhood was inhabited by many well-to-do people who as customers noticed the young blue-eyed grocery boy, appreciated his intelligence and inspired him to develop high ambitions. He excelled at high school and then took the entrance exams to the Athens Polytechnic where he was admitted with the highest scores.
Here is how one of his classmates at the Polytechnic described him: “He was brilliant, charismatic, polite, open minded, condescending, collaborative, adaptable, sociable, likable, a really nice guy”.
While at school and the Technical College, Elias never lost a chance to make an extra drachma and help his father make ends meet. He related the stories when he got into the lumber trade, then to manufacturing a bottled-orangeade.
Success fed ambition and for Elias’s ambitions the sky eventually became the limit. The sky was America and MIT where he came, made it “his own” and excelled as other speakers will relate.
While on his way to his brilliant career here at MIT, Elias always followed events in his old country with particular affection. In the early years, little after the Center of International Studies saga, Queen Frederica again, requested him to write a report with his recommendations for the Greek Atomic Energy Commission and the Experimental Reactor at Democritus. I don’t know the fortunes of that report per se but I do know that it also had a by-product and a very personal one at that.
Elias wrote the report, in Greek longhand of course, and needed someone with a Greek typewriter to type it. (These were the days before computers and word processing). He approached the Greek Consulate in Boston who referred him to a young Greek-American lady who possessed such a machine. The charming young lady did the typing but Elias found so many spelling errors that he had to keep going back to her time after time until she got it right. The correct spelling was not the only thing that Elias and the young lady managed to get right. As some of you know and others will have guessed, her name was Artemis. Artemis who was to become one of the Institute’s most dedicated matrons and certainly the most hospitable!
The years of dictatorship (1967 -1974) and Elias’s outspoken resistance caused an interlude in his association with Greek public affairs. In fact I believe he did not visit the country even as a tourist in that period.
He was one of the first Greek expatriates who responded to the “call to arms” by Constantine Karamanlis who in 1974 undertook the difficult task of guiding Greece back to democracy. In addition to the political intricacies, Karamanlis also had to address the formidable economic and political issues created by the first Oil Crisis. Energy for Greece was until then a non-issue. The Public Power Company was already in existence so were a couple of refineries but the only energy topic that demanded political decision was determination of import duties and taxation on oil.
Karamanlis decided to establish a committee of world-renowned experts as his supreme advisor on energy matters. I had indirect access to Karamanlis’ ear at the time and when the name Gyftopoulos was mentioned as the Council’s possible chairman, the Prime Minister agreed with enthusiasm. The Council first session took place in the presence of Karamanlis and a number of senior Ministers and was one of Elias’ great moments as I witnessed being the Council’s youngest member and Head of its Scientific Secretariat.
It is no exaggeration that Elias introduced the very concept of energy strategy into Greek political thinking. The Council made concrete and practical propositions on issues such as
· organization of the oil network,
· integrated energy pricing,
· utilization of indigenous energy resources including renewable,
· balancing the mix of primary sources for electricity generation,
· introduction of natural gas into the energy system,
· awareness of energy’s environmental implications,
· development of international cooperation,
· the use of analytical models,
· and last but not least on energy efficiency and conservation.
The latter was his most insistent proposition: And when Gyftopoulos asked his compatriots to save energy he was not asking them to be deprived of its use. «I am not suggesting that people reduce the benefits of energy use, but to make sure that they use it in the most efficient manner. There are immense possibilities for doing so».
This position was typical of the Energy Council’s contribution not only to the Greek economy but to the quality of life of Greek people.
But the Energy Council also had another important by-product. On Elias’ recommendation, the Government formulated a legislative framework that allowed the creation of a Scientific Secretariat consisting of young Greek scientists from Greece and abroad who were attracted by the newly recognized challenges of the energy field and by the MIT Professor’s reputation. The by-product was that from the members of this Secretariat,
· four became University Professors in Greece and abroad,
· one the Director of the National Research and Development Commission,
· several others permanent technical energy advisors to the successive Ministers of Energy for several decades.
There are so many stories, so many adventures, so many anecdotes that I could relate! When I first discussed this afternoon’s event with the organizers they asked me how long my talk was likely to last. I asked back: “Will till dawn the next morning be too long?”
I will not keep you that long. There are, however, a couple of stories that I want to share with you:
The first is from Elias childhood. Kyr Panagis, always proud of his son and aware of his rare talents, never laid a hand on him except for this one instant that Elias related with humor and affection.
A group of the blue-uniform national youth organization from all over the country had been brought to Athens for some kind of parade and settled in a camp near Elias’s dwellings. Always looking for that extra drachma, Elias quickly figured that they would need postal cards and stamps to write to their mothers and other similar supplies which he purchased and sold at a small profit. Quickly the youngsters got to like the lad and went on to ask him for some additional manly special information. “Where is the nearest so-and-so house?” they asked him. Elias had no idea not only as to the location but even as to the type of house that they were asking about. Always eager to be of service, he promised to inquire and return. So, he went to Kyr Panagis and asked, as if personally interested and in a hurry. “Daddy, where is the nearest …house?”. And Kyr Panagis’s hand came down hard for the first and only time!!
The second, from one of his last visits to Greece. I arranged for Elias to attend a televised Press Conference at the revived Energy Council that I was by then chairing. Two cabinet Ministers and other senior officials were to attend and extend their appreciation to Elias for all his contribution to Greece.
After having arranged the Press Conference I started to have second thoughts. Elias was already in constant pain and becoming emotional for the slightest cause so I feared that he would break to tears in front of the cameras and embarrass us all. Much to the contrary Elias was at his finest and in a steady clear voice repeated his strongest call to the Greek people. Energy conservation!
“I can tell you” he summed up, “that systematic conservation of energy is equivalent to the discovery of a new energy source that will last for ever.”
My last words need to be words of thanks. Thanks to Elias for making my life richer and more meaningful in so many ways. But I also owe him a very particular word of thanks. Without Elias, my passing through MIT would surely have been a valuable asset on my CV. As a personal association, however, it would have been a rather brief interval in my lifespan. It was Elias who made me feel an active participant in the MIT community throughout my life.
It is for this reason that I am grateful for this opportunity to address my last words to Elias Panayiotis Gyftopoulos from this podium, so close to the location where we first met.
I first met Professor Elias Gyftopoulos when I came to MIT as a graduate student in fall 1978. Among Greek students, at that time, Professor Gyftopoulos enjoyed fame of mythical proportions: he was not only a distinguished professor and former Chair of the faculty here at MIT, but was also highly respected in Greece, serving as Chair of the Energy Council, by invitation from Prime minister Karamanlis after the fall of the dictatorship. During my student years and as a junior faculty in the early 80s, I had relatively little interaction with Elias, but was fortunate enough to get to know him later, and, in the past 25 years, he was to me a most valuable mentor and teacher.
Elias devoted most of his professional career to teaching of thermodynamics. You may have noticed that I didn't say "teaching and research" because, as Elias argued passionately, at a university like MIT, it makes no sense to separate teaching from research, and professors are simply teachers. To me, however, as my field is not thermodynamics, Elias was a different, and perhaps more influential, kind of teacher. Until about two years ago when he became too sick to leave home, Elias and I regularly met for lunch at least once, and often 2 - 3 times, a week; these lunches were true "lessons of life" for me. Elias talked about growing up with very modest means in pre- and post-war Athens, helping out in his father's taverna, entering and excelling at the National Technical University of Athens, serving in the army during the difficult period following the Civil War in Greece, coming to MIT as a graduate student with the intention of returning to Greece after getting his PhD but eventually staying here, rising through the faculty ranks at MIT, and his long, fruitful collaboration with his close friend, George Hatsopoulos. However many times they were repeated through the years, these stories always remained fresh and exemplified Elias's strong personality and philosophy for life.
For example, as a graduate student, Elias had made the decision to walk from his rented room in Kenmore Square to MIT every day, even in the middle of the brutal Boston winters, in order to save the 10 cents that the bus ticket cost at that time. He explained that graduate research assistants had to pay tuition from their monthly stipend, leaving little money for living expenses, and he felt it was not appropriate at his age (he was 26 years old in 1953 when he came to MIT) to still depend on his father. In fact, as a general principle through the years, from the time he was a poor graduate student until later in life when he was well-off financially, Elias assured me that he always spent less than he made.
Then there was the funny story about the professor at NTUA who devoted all his time to outside consulting and government work, completely neglecting his teaching duties. At the end of the school year, he would give all students a passing grade between 5, the lowest passing grade, and 10, the highest grade. Moreover, the particular grade a student got was assigned by an unusual algorithm based on the alphabetical order of the student last name in the class list: specifically, staring from the top with A, grades were assigned as follows: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, etc. While students were apparently not bothered by this scheme, for the obvious reason that they didn't have to work to pass the course, Elias was upset with this unscrupulous man who abused the system so blatantly. Perhaps this explains why Elias was such an incredibly dedicated teacher, who always kept his office door open to students and never missed a single lecture throughout his career, not even to attend a conference let alone do outside consulting work.
I am grateful to Elias Gyftopoulos for such an interesting, rich and priceless perspective into academia, and life in general. I learned a lot from him and I miss him dearly.
In June we heard of Elias' tremendous influence on the development of his family –– from his daughters down to his grandchildren. Today it’s fitting we speak equally of his influence on MIT and his world of scholarship. The same strengths infused both worlds ––
–– an inherent ability to match the sophistication of an always elegant explanation to the level and background of the audience
–– fairness but demanding of the best efforts from each of us
–– warmth and interest in the development of his juniors.
At MIT departments are the true home to faculty and students. Elias was imbedded in 3 over his career at MIT . He started at MIT as a graduate student in Electrical Engineering (EE), then an instructor and upon graduation in 1958, an assistant professor for a year. He then became a Nuclear Engineering faculty member in the Spring of 1959 upon the invitation of Mason Benedict. As an instructor in Electrical Engineering his offer to develop and offered a course in Nuclear Plant Dynamics, was accepted by the Electrical Engineering faculty of course in conjunction with Manson. Upon his appointment to Nuc Eng he subsequently expanded that course into a two term sequence called Dynamics and Control of Nuclear Power Systems which became a core offering of the Nuclear Engineering Department for many years.
By 1962 Elias' research focus had moved into Thermionic direct energy conversion This lead him into the lifelong focus on advancing the understanding of thermodynamics and a subsequent appointment in the Mechanical Engineering department where he developed and taught a core graduate course emphasizing the fundamentals as well as applications of thermodynamics.
In the newly formed Department of Nuclear Engineering he joined the faculty group Manson was gathering to create the university curriculum for this new field. In this remarkable group, Elias was the 12th to be hired served for 55 years among the 8 of those colleagues who remained and made their careers at MIT. Elias was also the youngest of this group and as most of the others, 20 years or so junior to Benedict, the founding father whom Elias revered for his skill and dedication in building the department on strong, enduring principles. I also suspect Elias was grateful to Manson for welcoming and smoothing his way into the faculty group whom Manson had hired who preeminently had roots in small town America before their education at MIT and UC-Berkeley. Nowadays we think nothing of international faculty hires but in 1958 Elias was the sole international among these first 12 Nuclear Engineering faculty members -- with an urban, Athens upbringing to boot matched only by that of Irving Kaplan, the New York City native in the group.
Over his more than half a century at MIT Elias taught a range of subject matter at a range of student levels second to none - reactor dynamics and control, reactor theory, a range of physics disciplines and thermodynamics .
I first met Elias the day I entered MIT as a graduate student. I don't recall why we met in his office that day, not for registration, but I guess my mustache, the hint of Greek in my last name and mention of my mother's upbringing in close proximity to the Greek community of Constantinople were the seeds of our developing close relationship. While I did not become his thesis student, several of my incoming class mates did and from them I heard often of his mentoring style. One of the most prodigious talents was Dan Wilkins, a self proclaimed "rural kid" from Ohio, who later headed GE's nuclear business and ushered the ABWR into deployment in Asia.
In Dan's words, Elias was a fair but demanding advisor –– in Dan's case nothing short of a comprehensive model that matched experimental data would suffice. When Dan hit roadblocks Elias' advice was always the same –– "think harder". Simple advice but advice that usually worked.
Eight (8) years later upon my return to MIT as a junior faculty member I went to him for advice about writing about nuclear power plant cycles. In short order this led to our jointly teaching the thermodynamics portion of our core nuclear engineering course - he the fundamentals and me the applications –– an alliance that I viewed initially with great apprehension given his vastly superior grasp of the field. Almost immediately (but out of range of the students) he corrected me on loose and incorrect, as he saw it, use of terminology. Thermodynamic efficiency ( or effectiveness ), the definition which introduced the maximum useful work possible, not the commonly used term, thermal efficiency, was the correct term. As we quickly then worked out, for the power plant as a whole, numerically these two efficiencies yielded the same value –– so all the multiple texts which speak of thermal efficiency quote the correct numerical efficiency values.
However he was adamant that clarity and logic demanded usage of the later definition, a view I came quickly to appreciate. (Further along the way he also demonstrated to me how to obtain the maximum work done by the fissioning of fuel- an expression hitherto missing in nuclear engineering texts.)
In this class I saw first hand his dogged insistence on precise language but as well, his unique ability to retain rigor but present concepts at the level of his students. So when my high school son surprised me one evening with that dreaded question," what is entropy?" I immediately arranged a meeting for him with the Elias whom he knew, which Elias graciously and rapidly scheduled, not in Cambridge but rather in Lincoln. Whatever was said I wasn't privy to but Tim came away well satisfied with the working understanding he sought, the result of conversation well lubricated by and Baklava which Artemis always had readily in hand for such occasions.
The many student comments and teaching awards Elias received that throughout his teaching career attest that he was always admired by his students for the clarity yet the depth of his lectures. Of course his classes were populated by those students with the intellectual horsepower sufficient to survive, survival which also dictated digestion of his classic textbook " Thermodynamics Foundations and Applications" coauthored with his student Gian Paolo Beretta, here with us today.
Apropos to this entropy story and classroom plaudits, by chance yesterday in a locker room in Newton such a former Mechanical Engineering graduate student stopped me and asked –– aren't you a colleague of Elias Gyftopoulos at MIT? I recently heard of his death and I wanted to tell you what a great man he was. If I passed him at MIT he would always stop me and warmly greet me as his former student. I loved his course because of the most beautiful lectures he gave. But I must admit that when it came to the end of the term written evaluation, I was most tempted to admit that for all his efforts, I still didn't really feel I understood what entropy was!
Dan Wilkins says he chose Elias as a thesis advisor because he found him an inspirational, enthusiastic guy with big ideas. Just how big? Let me elaborate because here lies the core of Elias' work for over 30 years
Dan's thesis was to develop a theoretical model of how thermionic converters work. It is this area that united the efforts of Elias and George Hatsopoulos, then a Professor of mechanical engineering, which lead in 1976 to a series of 4 papers on a new paradigm of physics and thermodynamics that unifies these two disciplines of science and resolves a number of the dilemmas and paradoxes that have plagued generations of physicists and thermodynamicists .
Elias then pursued the development of this theory for 3 decades in part with two outstanding students, Gian Paolo Beretta and Errol Cubukcu.
Another of Elias' collaborators Michael von Spakovsky is also here today and I leave it to him and Gian Paolo to elaborate on Elias' core achievements in this area.
With his students and close colleagues Elias complemented his Scholarship with a warmth and most sincere concern for their development . Elias was always visited by his former thesis students when they came within hailing distance of Cambridge and he gave them an equally warm welcome.
In addition to the technical education Dan obtained from Elias, Dan says he also learned another thing from Elias - proper use of the English language. Once Elias had completed his technical review of Dan's thesis he turned his attention to writing, grammar and punctuation. Dan said" I never understood how a guy from Greece knew the English language better than me, but he did". I was not surprised with this revelation. Anyone who worked with Elias on a written piece soon learned of his utter commitment to precision yet grace in written and spoken English.
But Elias did have an aversion- that of putting himself in a position where he might become the focus of frivolity. For this reason students never made him the subject of a Christmas skit joke nor more importantly did he ever sanction the idea of the Department holding a party upon his retirement, an occasion marked by accolades but also usually a bit of Roast.
Hence he consigned us all to wait for this occasion to tell him how much we honor and respect his contributions to scholarship and the life within our Departments. I trust that he would graciously approve of the sentiments we all express this afternoon.
I first met Professor Gyftopoulos in the fall of 1978. He was the instructor of 2.451, the almost mandatory course for graduate students in mechanical engineering entitled “General Thermodynamics I”. The course was actually offered jointly by the Mechanical Engineering department as 2.451J and the Nuclear Engineering department as 22.571J.
Professor Gyftopoulos was indeed an extremely charming teacher, and a very demanding one. The homework load was serious matter, and challenging. Even the best students spent very long hours to work it out. His problem sets, like his lectures, were masterfully thought-out, carefully designed to bear direct connections with relevant practical applications, and often supported and illustrated by farsighted and acute observations about the energy industry, all of which are still valid today. We students were literally hanging from his lucid and concise explanations, always direct and to the point. Most of us had been exposed previously to a style of teaching thermodyamics whereby the lack of clear ideas often required the teacher to raise a smokescreen and hide behind a cloud of details, and sometimes even the “principle of teacher’s authority”. Here, instead, we were astonished by the strength of the logic and the principles he was teaching us, and from which he would patiently work out by rigorous logical derivation the answers to all our questions. And when we were shy and didn’t dare asking questions, he was always ready to entertain us with some of those funny but relevant stories by which he managed to put the right questions into our mouths, so as to give us a chance to listen to his answers. He was a master of keeping the full attention from every single student in the class.
It was only in the second semester, when I took 2.452 from him, that I discovered that his office door was always open to his students. During my first semester I was still a shy and respectful foreign student, fresh of studies in a large italian university where at that time it was almost impossible to meet the professors outside the classroom. So I simpy never thougth I could just walk in to his office without an appointment.
In 2.452 at that time he was teaching the thermodynamics of mixtures in the first half of the course, and then he switched to explaining how the Hatsopoulos-Keenan statement of the second law could be embedded in the framework of quantum theory. I was so fascinated by his lectures and by the subject the way he was putting it, that I eventually started to visit his office after class. We had such good discussions on what still needed to be done, that soon I decided I wanted to stay at MIT beyond my master’s thesis -- which I was then completing under professor Keck -- to do my PhD on quantum thermodynamics, with professor Gyftopoulos as my thesis advisor. He agreed and he found a way to provide me with a teaching assistanship, to grade homeworks for 2.451. He then introduced me to George Hatsopoulos and the three of us had exciting discussions almost every saturday morning at ThermoElectron. During the week, Elias and I met every other day, excited by the progress we were making, and in fact in about one year all the logic and the equations for my PhD thesis were in place. And so I thought it was just a matter of writing some text around those equation and in a few weeks I could submit the thesis.
“Not so fast Gian Paolo!” It was then, that I discovered, what scientific writing meant to him. It took me 6 months of writing and rewriting, and cutting and pasting, and tons of yellow stickers and new great discussions, before I finally met the standards of clarity, purpose, essentiality, and perfection he demanded from his students’ and his own scientific writing. Writing with him has been for me a continuous learning experience also for the following 12 years. As colleagues we coauthored 20 articles and one book for a total of just about 1000 pages, each literally rewritten from scratch at least 15 times.
Over these years I also learnt from him that no mail is junk mail (this of course was before email and spam…). He made for himself a point of honor to reply line by line to every single note and letter he received, regardless of the rank of the sender. Even the numerous letters he received from crazy inventors of perpetual motion machines of the second kind, he would patiently analyze them and, statement by statement, he would thoroughly explain where and why they were wrong, typically by means of a long letter that on average he would rewrite and polish at least three or four times. This to me was not only a greatest lesson of professional ethics, but also a proof of how highly he respected his job, his Institution, and every human being. Another proof of this same respect was the long lasting energy and pride that he derived from walking around MIT on commencement days, and read in the bewildered but proud faces of the parents, the sacrifices they had made to send their children to MIT and have him as their teacher.
I have been teaching thermodynamics at all levels for the last 30 years to 6 or 7000 students, and hardly a single class has gone by without my drawing on something that I learned from Professor Gyftopoulos in 2.451 and in our discussions. There is no single lecture in my teaching of thermodynamics in which I don’t use the energy versus entropy diagram explicitly or implicitly. This diagram has been for him, as it is for me and for those who use our method of exposition, a back-of-the-mind tool that provides an easy visualization of the states of a physical system, and allows us to reason out rational answers to even the most challenging questions on nonequilibrium states.
We were both fanatic of rigorous derivations and so it has been a great fun for both of us to catch each other’s flaws in the proofs we were constantly developing. Together we developed 2.451 and it took us 5 years of teaching together and another 5 years of intense exchanges after I left MIT, before we transformed our class notes into the book we published with Macmillan in 91. Since then, we have both been very proud of that effort. We both started using the book continuously as a reference for ourselves and in discussions with anybody, because we both trusted every single line we wrote. And of course it is written the way he wanted, which by that time had become also my way. When in 2005 the book was picked up by the prestigious Dover publications, Elias and I were thrilled by the international recognition that came with it. But that compensated only partially his frustration for having failed to make the legacy of professor Keenan grow stronger within MIT.
It is no coincidence that at the Keenan symposium we organized here at MIT five years ago thanks to George Hatsopoulos and the Department of Mechanical Engineering, he chose to entitle his last paper: “Building on the legacy of professor Keenan. Entropy, an intrinsic property of matter”. I propose to professor von Spakovsky, who is here today and is the editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Thermodynamics that together we should write a paper entitled “Building on the legacy of professor Gyftopoulos. Entropy and thermodynamics made rigorous”.
Indeed, in the international community, he has been very influential. His crystal clear understanding of the entropy balance made him a leader in the 70’s and the 80’s, when the methods of availability analysis (today better known as second law analysis or exergy analysis) were being introduced systematically in the energy-systems engineering practice. This topic was central for the international group that started the ECOS conference series on Efficiency, Cost, Optimization, Simulation and Environmental Impact of Energy Systems, which today gathers hundreds of energy experts, as well as for the Advanced Energy Systems Division of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, who elected him a Fellow in 1987. At these international meetings, Professor Gyftopoulos assumed for himself the role of an untiring paladin of rigorous thermodynamics. I have no time to read the many statements I received from colleagues all over Europe and the US, who are grateful for all that they learned from him and his works, and consider him one of the greatest, most generous and inspiring contributor to the field of thermodynamics.
A last effort on which Elias and I spent a lot of time, was the development of 2.452 into a subject focused on the quantum foundations and implications of thermodynamics. We changed the title from “General Thermodynamics II” to “Quantum Thermodynamics”. Nowhere else a course with such a title was offered, until two decades later it became a popular title in Quantum Physics and Statistical Mechanics. In 1983, and for the next three years until I left MIT, he allowed me to teach the entire course while he sat in the class, and took notes. We hoped that, out of this effort, we could eventually extract a book also on this frontier topic that fascinated us so much, but for various reasons we never started writing it.
I miss very much our long discussions and I am sure that, if he could, from where he is now, Elias would miss them too. “Una faccia una razza” he liked to say when our agreement and common interest about rigorous logical and philosophical foundations, reminded him of the genetic heritage that the two of us shared, as people of the Mediterranean. This motto gives me hope that my place up there will not be too far from him and Artemis so that I could still enjoy their wormest company and sincere friendship, and hopefully we will be allowed to make our discussions on entropy and irreversibility literally endless.
I have for a long time held the answer attributed to the great physicist Arnold Sommerfeld in response to “why he had never written a book on thermodynamics” to be indicative of the influence that Elias had on me first as a young rather naïve and conventional thermodynamicist and later as a somewhat less naive and rather unconventional one. Sommerfeld’s response was that
"[t]he first time [he] studied the subject [he] thought [he] understood it except for a few minor points. The second time, [he] thought [he] didn’t understand it except for a few minor points. The third time, [he] knew [he] didn’t understand it, but it did not matter, since [he] could use it effectively."
I most certainly identify with the first two of Sommerfeld’s points, but to my surprise it was Elias who taught me not to accept the third but instead to consider it my responsibility as a thermodynamicist to understand as fully as possible so that I could indeed use this most beautiful of sciences as effectively and as generally as possible. For that I owe him a great debt of gratitude.
I first encountered Elias at a panel discussion on thermodynamics in Athens, Greece. He and Gian Paolo had just recently published the first edition of their book on thermodynamics, and they along with another very well-known colleague were asked to sit on the panel and present their views on thermodynamics. Elias’ and Gian Paolo’s ideas about the fundamental concepts of thermodynamics frankly shocked me and went against much that I had been taught and yet none of the other well-known thermodynamicists in attendance including the other panelist challenged what I and they for that matter clearly knew could not be right. Due to my own youth and inexperience, I did not have the confidence to challenge these ideas; but I certainly expected those to whom I looked up to do so, but no one did. No one stood up to challenge what clearly must be wrong. Or was it? It was this failure to challenge by those who I thought should have that made me first begin to question what I had been taught.
Of course, the questioning took time and to my great fortune Elias befriended me (and for that matter Artemis as well; I will always remember her kindnesses to me and the wonderful meals she prepared and the interesting discussions we had). Over the next several years, Elias provided me the opportunity to question him and to learn from him. In time, he became a dear friend and colleague with whom I would initially only have the opportunity to speak once a year about thermodynamics when we would meet at a conference he and I attended each summer in Europe and then much more often after I joined the faculty at Virginia Tech and decided to explore both in my teaching and research the rather radical ideas on thermodynamics that he and his colleagues had proposed. He, thus, became an important mentor and teacher for me even though I never took a single class from him. It was Elias who opened my eyes to the breadth and depth of thermodynamics as a fundamental science and taught me to be a scientist and as a result a better engineer. He launched me on a path of inquiry which quite literally changed the direction of my research in ways I could never have imagined, and he helped me gain an understanding of thermodynamics in a way and with a depth that I would never have achieved without him. In fact, I would never have even thought to do so. It was his enthusiasm and passion for thermodynamics and for learning and for questioning even the most devoutly held tenants of science with which he inspired me. I have in turn tried to convey his inspiration to the hundreds of graduate students to whom I have taught thermodynamics and to the many masters and doctoral students that I have advised and continue to advise, teaching them to apply a thermodynamics which respects no boundaries of size or conditions of state. Indeed it is Elias’ vision of thermodynamics as a general science, as an elegant, unified theory which sustains my passion for research. For that I am eternally grateful. Elias, my good friend, you will be sorely missed!
Hello I am Alex Moissis.
Elias Gyftopoulos woke me up, I am told, when I was a baby in Boston, to play with me, despite my parents' mild protests; he woke me up again eighteen years later, with a night-time phone call from Cambridge to Athens to announce that I had been accepted to MIT, where I spent the next 8 years. A similar phone call followed 4 years later for my brother, who is also named Elias, and not by coincidence. He woke us up and kept us awake throughout our lives with his example.
I did not live up to his standards; I'm not sure anyone could; I'm still working on it. But I know that I am a better person today for having known him. Maybe my kids will do better, as I pass on his inspiration to them. This notion of constantly trying to do better, even if we don't "reach Ithaca," may be the point anyway, especially for Greek Americans who know what Ithacas mean. Maybe our Ithaca lies in Lincoln, Massachusetts.
I did not take his Thermodynamics class at MIT. Not because I was afraid that I might fail it, but because I feared that I would fail all my other courses by putting a disproportionate amount of work and energy (pun intended...) to his class to meet his expectations. Oh and by the way, failure for us meant not getting straight A's. I didn't take his class, but I was, and still am, his student for life. I and most other Greeks who attended MIT.
Here is how one of my classmates, Dr. Christos Katsis, who did attend his class, described him: (and I quote): "Gyftopoulos had something special that touched all the Greeks that went through MIT. He showed the interest and made the effort to get to know us outside the classroom. And he was very approachable and down to earth despite his brilliance and his success. That's what I will always remember about him."
He listened to and got to know his students. And we listened daily to his stories during our lunches with him at the MIT cafeteria: We heard about Elias the smart grocery boy who added up the bill instantly at his father Kir Panagis' store in Athens; we heard about Elias the proud, tall and handsome, blue-eyed flag bearer of the National Technical University of Athens; the person that everyone who attended national day parades then still remembers
now. Greece was always in his heart and this nostalgia he expressed in his stories to us and by his lifelong contribution to his country of origin.
Since I was with him in Boston during the cold Massachusetts winters, but also vacationed with his family at my parents' house in Marathon Greece in the summer, I also had the rare privilege of witnessing his remarkable annual transformation from accomplished scientist to Greek beach bum. His daughters joked at the time about the fact that, upon setting foot on Greek soil, he would turn to them and declare emphatically, in Greek: Τωρα μιλαμε Ελληνικα! "From now on, we only speak Greek." Within a few days the transformation was complete: The busy and stressed MIT professor, who a few days earlier would have been seen rushing through the Institute's corridors in his gray suit, blue shirt, and tie, was transformed into the relaxed, tanned and shirtless vacationer who, in his shorts and sandals, would slowly stroll along the beach in the hot sun each morning, from the house to the bakery, to pick up a loaf of bread and a newspaper before joining his dear friends for a glass of ouzo and a snack and to discuss politics or Greece's energy policy.
His frail body may have left us now, but his memory will be with me forever.
I will close with a quick message to his ten grandchildren, to Nicho, Alexander, Theo, Temis, Daphne, Chloe, Eli, Luke, Dante and Arianna.
Guys, I have some bad news and some good news:
- The bad news is that your pappou's act will be a tough one to follow in your life;
- The good news is that to help you along the way, he leaves you his memory, his inspiration, and some very gifted "Gyfto" genes...
...Along with our love and our best wishes for you, your parents and your families.
We will never forget your pappou.
Elias P. Gyftopoulos, Ford Professor Emeritus of Nuclear Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, died peacefully at his home in Lincoln, Mass., on Saturday, June 23. He was 84 years old.
Considered by many to be one of the foremost thermodynamicists of his time, Gyftopoulos was highly regarded for his significant contributions to the fields of nuclear engineering and mechanical engineering, having held appointments in both departments at MIT.
Born in Greece, Gyftopoulos served in the Greek army while earning degrees in electrical engineering and mechanical engineering from the National Technical University of Athens. He left Greece to pursue an ScD in electrical engineering from MIT, working as both a research assistant and an instructor in the Department of Electrical Engineering during that time. After graduating in 1958, he was immediately hired by the department as an assistant professor and, in 1960, moved to the newly formed Department of Nuclear Engineering. By 1965, he had advanced to the position of professor of nuclear engineering and, from 1968 to 1969, served as acting department head. In 1970, he was named Ford Professor of Nuclear Engineering and, six years later, Ford Professor of Nuclear and Mechanical Engineering, a position he held until his retirement in 1996. He served as Chair of the MIT Faculty from 1973 to 1975.
Gyftopoulos’s interest in nuclear engineering began with a survey course on nuclear reactors he took as a doctoral student in electrical engineering, which in turn led him to develop a new course on nuclear reactor safety and control. This interest in nuclear reactors caught the attention of Professor of Mechanical Engineering George Hatsopoulos, who invited Gyftopoulos to investigate whether nuclear reactors could be used to convert nuclear energy directly into electricity.
In the course of this study, Gyftopoulos identified several contradictions and inconsistencies that had permeated the understanding of thermodynamics and physics for decades, and began to direct his research efforts to reconciling these longstanding issues. The resulting unified quantum theory of mechanics and thermodynamics formed the basis of a new understanding of thermodynamics from a non-statistical viewpoint that applies to both macroscopic and microscopic systems either in a state of thermodynamic equilibrium or not, providing a self-consistent presentation of thermodynamics.
Gyftopoulos was seen by colleagues as a charismatic and devoted teacher, highly praised and greatly admired by generations of students for the clarity, depth and rigor of his lectures. For many years, he was the instructor in charge of a popular core graduate subject, offered jointly by the mechanical and nuclear engineering departments, that emphasized the fundamentals as well as applications of thermodynamics. This course led to the now-classic textbook “Thermodynamics: Foundations and Applications”(co-authored with G.P. Beretta).
Gyftopoulos was an outstanding leader of the Greek community in Boston, and served as a trustee of Anatolia College, the American Farm School and Hellenic College. He served on the boards of several private companies and as chairman of the National Energy Council of Greece.
For his many extraordinary contributions to the fields of nuclear and mechanical engineering, Gyftopoulos received numerous awards, including the Ruth and Joel Spira Award of the School of Engineering for Teaching Excellence, the James Harry Potter Gold Medal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the Edward F. Obert Award of ASME, the Robert Henry Thurston Lecture Award of ASME, and the Commander of Order of Merit of the Republic of Greece.
Gyftopoulos was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a corresponding member of the Academy of Athens, as well as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, ASME, the American Nuclear Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
He is survived by his three loving daughters, Vasso, Maro and Rena Gyftopoulos. His beloved wife Artemis passed away in 2011.
The funeral service will be held on Thursday, June 28, at 10:45 a.m. at the Holy Cross Seminary Chapel at Hellenic College-Holy Cross Orthodox School of Theology, 50 Goddard Ave., Brookline, Mass. Visiting hours will be held on Wednesday, June 27, from 4 to 8 p.m. A public memorial service for Gyftopoulos will take place from 3-4 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at the MIT Chapel. A reception will follow at Twenty Chimneys.
In lieu of flowers, gifts in Gyftopoulos' name may be made to MIT for the Elias P. Gyftopoulos (1958) Memorial Scholarship Fund (to provide scholarship support for undergraduate students from Greece) or the Elias P. Gyftopoulos (1958) Fellowship Fund (to support graduate students in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering). Gifts may also be mailed to Bonny Kellermann, MIT Office of Memorial Gifts, 600 Memorial Drive, Room W98-514, Cambridge MA 02139.
The following was published in Greek USA Reporter on June 23, 2012.
Greek-American Professor emeritus of MIT Elias Gyftopoulos passed away peacefully in his Lincoln, MA home at the age of 84. Dr. Gyftopoulos was a Ford Professor of Mechanical Engineering and of Nuclear Engineering for more than 20 years until his retirement in 1996.
Born in Athens, Greece, Elias came to The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall of 1953 as a graduate student. He remained at MIT for his entire career, where he distinguished himself as an outstanding teacher, professor, scientist and innovative thinker. He was an exceptional leader in the Greek community in Boston, advising countless Greek students attending universities in the area.
His Research Interest included Nuclear plant dynamics; plasma physics; surface physics; direct energy conversion; thermodynamics.
Ford Professor Emeritus of Nuclear Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Gyftopoulos had also been active in the private sector as the director of Thermo BioAnalysis Corporation, Thermo Cardiosystems Inc., Thermo Electron, Thermo Remediation Inc., ThermoSpectra Corporation, Thermo Voltek Corp. and Trex Medical Corporation.
His funeral is scheduled for June 28 at 10:45a.m. at the Holy Cross Seminary Chapel at Hellenic College-Holy Cross Orthodox School of Theology, 50 Goddard Ave., Brookline. Visiting hours Wednesday, June 27 from 4-8 p.m. in the Holy Cross Chapel.
The following was published in The Boston Globe on June 24, 2012.
Elias P. GYFTOPOULOS, Age 84 of Lincoln, June 23, 2012. Passed away peacefully in his home surrounded by his three daughters. Devoted husband to the late Artemis E. Gyftopoulos, father to Vasso G. Kelly and her husband Hugh of Rowayton, CT, Maro G. Desjardins and her husband Mark of Houston, TX and Rena Gyftopoulos-Shepherd and her husband David of Boston, MA. "Papou" was also survived by his 10 adoring grandchildren, Nicho E. Kelly, Alexander H. Kelly, Theo M. Kelly, Artemis G. Kelly, Daphne B. Desjardins, Chloe M. Desjardins, Elias C. Desjardins, Lucas G. Desjardins, Dante R. Shepherd and Arianna C. Shepherd.
Born in Athens, Greece, Elias came to The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall of 1953 as a graduate student. He remained at MIT for his entire career, where he distinguished himself as an outstanding teacher, professor, scientist and innovative thinker. He was a Ford Professor of both Mechanical (1976) and Nuclear Engineering (1970) and Professor Emeritus. Beyond his career as a professor, Elias served on the board of directors of several private companies and non-profit organizations. He also served as an energy advisor to the Greek government.
He was an exceptional leader in the Greek community in Boston, advising countless Greek students attending universities in the area. He and his beloved wife were hosts to dignitaries, old friends and new acquaintances alike at their home in Lincoln. Elias was above all a beloved and proud husband, father and grandfather whose happiest moments were shared with his adoring family.
Funeral Service, Thursday, June 28 at 10:45a.m. at the Holy Cross Seminary Chapel at Hellenic College-Holy Cross Orthodox School of Theology, 50 Goddard Ave., Brookline. Visiting hours Wednesday, June 27 from 4-8 p.m. in the Holy Cross Chapel. In lieu of flowers, gifts in his name may be made to an educational fund for Greek students in the Boston area to be announced. Interment Lincoln Cemetery, Lincoln.
The following was published in The National Herald on June 26, 2012.
Elias P.Gyftopoulos, PhD, age 84 of Lincoln. June 23, 2012. Passed away peacefully in his home surrounded by his three daughters. Devoted husband to the late Artemis E. Gyftopoulos, father to Vasso G. Kelly and her husband Hugh of Rowayton, CT, Maro G. Desjardins and her husband Mark of Houston, TX and Rena Gyftopoulos-Shepherd and her husband David of Boston, MA. 'Papou' was also survived by his 10 adoring grandchildren, Nicho E. Kelly, Alexander H. Kelly, Theo M. Kelly, Artemis G. Kelly, Daphne B. Desjardins, Chloe M. Desjardins, Elias C. Desjardins, Lucas G. Desjardins, Dante R. Shepherd and Arianna C. Shepherd.
Born in Athens, Greece, Elias came to The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall of 1953 as a graduate student. He remained at MIT for his entire career, where he distinguished himself as an outstanding teacher, professor, scientist and innovative thinker. He was a Ford Professor of both Mechanical (1976) and Nuclear Engineering (1970) and Professor Emeritus. Beyond his career as a professor, Elias served on the board of directors of several private companies and non-profit organizations.
He also served as an energy advisor to the Greek government. He was an exceptional leader in the Greek community in Boston, advising countless Greek students attending universities in the area. He and his beloved wife were hosts to dignitaries, old friends and new acquaintances alike at their home in Lincoln.
Elias was above all a beloved and proud husband, father and grandfather whose happiest moments were shared with his adoring family.
The following was published in Greek News of Energia.gr on August 3, 2012.
Το Σάββατο 23 Ιουνίου απεβίωσε στην κατοικία του Λίνκολν της Μασαχουσέτης σε ηλικία 84 ετών ο ομότιμος καθηγητής Πυρηνικής Μηχανικής και Μηχανολογίας Ηλίας Π. Γυφτόπουλος. Εθεωρείτο πρωτοπόρος της εποχής του στην θερμοδυναμική και έχαιρε υψηλής αναγνώρισης για την προσφορά του στους τομείς της Πυρηνικής Μηχανικής και Μηχανολογίας, στους οποίους κατείχε θέσεις στο τεχνολογικό Ινστιτούτο της Μασαχουσέτης (ΜΙΤ).
Ο Γυφτόπουλος γεννήθηκε στην Ελλάδα και εφοίτησε στο Εθνικό Μετσόβιο Πολυτεχνείο όπου έλαβε πτυχία στην ηλεκτρονική μηχανική και μηχανολογία. Συνέχισε τις σπουδές του στην ηλεκτρονική μηχανική στο ΜΙΤ, όπου έκανε το διδακτορικό του και εργάσθηκε ως βοηθός ερευνητού, αλλά και ως καθηγητής στο τμήμα Ηλεκτρονικής Μηχανικής. Αφού αποφοίτησε το 1958, προσελήφθη από το τμήμα αυτό ως βοηθός καθηγητού και το 1960 τοποθετήθηκε στο νέο τμήμα Πυρηνικής Μηχανικής και από το 1968 έως το 1969 ήταν επικεφαλής του τμήματος αυτού. Το 1970 έλαβε τον τιμητικό τίτλο του Ford Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, θέση που κατείχε έως το 1996 όταν συνταξιοδοτήθηκε.
Εθεωρείτο από τους συναδέλφους το χαρισματικός και αφοσιωμένος καθηγητής, τον οποίο θαύμαζαν ιδιαίτερα οι φοιτητές για την ακρίβεια και την σχολαστικότητα των παραδόσεων του. Επί πολλά χρόνια ήταν καθηγητές ενός πολύ δημοφιλούς μαθήματος που εδίδετο από κοινού από τα τμήματα Πυρηνικής Μηχανικής και Μηχανολογίας, το οποίο επικεντρωνόταν στις αρχές της θερμοδυναμικής. Για αυτό το μάθημα, ο ίδιος συνέγραψε με τον Τζ. Π. Μπερέττα το Βιβλίο « Thermodynamics: Foundations and Applications».
Μεταξύ 1975 και 1981 διετέλεσε πρόεδρος του Εθνικού Συμβουλίου Ενέργειας όπου ουσιαστικά εισήγαγε την έννοια της ενεργειακής στρατηγικής και του ενεργειακού προγραμματισμού στην χώρα μας. Υπό την διεύθυνση του στο Εθνικό Συμβούλιο Ενέργειας μελέτησε όλες τις πτυχές του Ελληνικού ενεργειακού συστήματος και ετέθησαν οι βάσεις για την διαφοροποίηση του ενεργειακού μίγματος με την εισαγωγή λιθάνθρακα στην βιομηχανία και αργότερα του φυσικού αερίου και των ΑΠΕ.
Ο Ηλίας Γυφτόπουλος ήταν πρόεδρος της ελληνικής κοινότητας στην Βοστώνη. Με την σύζυγό του Αρτέμη, που απεβίωσε το 2011, απέκτησαν τρεις κόρες, την Βάσω, την Μάρω και την Ρένα Γυφτοπούλου.