Physicist Vasilis Papanikolaou cares about the Greek-American community


BOSTON — Across the United States, expatriates from Greece and other Greek-Americans are hidden treasures, succeeding in their scientific and professional fields, and at the same time working quietly to support and promote the Greek-American community, including they care. all their heart.

We met Basil Papanicolaou in the town of Nashua, New Hampshire, when he approached to inform us that he is a regular reader of the National Herald.

He was born in Athens many years ago when it was a beautiful, quiet and safe city, he said. After high school he studied at the Physics Department of the University of Athens and after graduation he continued his studies and research at the Democritus Research Institute, Greece.

Vasilis Papanikolaou at the entrance to St. Philip’s in Nashua, NH.
(Photo TNH/Theodore Kalmoukos)

When asked what drew him to physics, he said that as a child, “I was always curious about how things work in nature, like why a ship doesn’t sink, why ice floats in water, what causes sparks, and why airplanes don’t fall from the sky.In high school and college, his interest in science and physics grew even more.

In 1974 he received a fellowship for postgraduate studies in solid-state physics at the Bartol Research Foundation, in Swarthmore, PA, now part of Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

Bartol Research, located in a serene small town and on the incredible campus of Swarthmore College, specializes in solid state physics and nuclear physics research.

In class, said Papanicolaou, “we had about five or six students and I liked the friendly environment and the direct interaction with the faculty. From day one, the faculty and administration have been welcoming, friendly and accommodating. A Greek-American teacher, Angelo Skalafuris, helped me and a few other Greek students acclimatize to our new surroundings. After postgraduate studies, I moved to Boston, where I met the late Professor Evangelos Anastasakis, undertaking research at Northeastern University.

“My first job, he continued, “was at Dialog Systems in Waltham, working on a voice recognition system with the analog technology that existed at the time. A great friend to this day, Demetrios (Takis) Hatziyannis, introduced me to RCA systems in Burlington MA, where I worked as a software engineer with a team designing diagnostic systems for military vehicles.

He then recounted a “beautiful fall day…on my way to Boston after work, by mistake instead of heading south on the freeway, I headed north. I passed by the town of Lowell where I knew there was a large Greek community and because the foliage was awesome I decided to take a recreational ride even further north. This is how I discovered Nashua. Driving through town, I decided it was a nice place to live and quickly moved there. While still driving through Burlington, I saw a building with the sign “Sanders Associates” behind some trees on the freeway and decided to check out their next open house. I was hired after a short interview, and I spent most of my professional career there in engineering and management positions working on numerous projects. Sanders later became Lockheed Sanders and then was acquired by BAE Systems as it exists today. It is a defense company that focuses on the design and manufacture of countermeasures systems for the army and air force.

Vasilis Papanikolaou – seen above with Archbishop Demetrios, elder of America (center), and Metropolitan Methodios of Boston – helped prepare lunch at the 2018 Clergy Laity Congress in Boston.
(Photo provided by Vasilis Papanikolaou)

He went on to say that “on my first day on the job, after introductions, I walked into my office where they already had my nameplate. It only took a few minutes before a head appeared and asked ‘Ellinas ise? – Are you Greek?’ It was Jim Coidakis, a Greek employee with whom I had a conversation for a few minutes. Word spread and a few minutes later Charles Juris stopped by to say hello and welcome. They were the first Greeks I met at work and of course later I met Angelo Chouramanis, who made sure my attendance sheet was always up to date.

At the Saint-Philippe church, he meets Father Soterios Alexopoulos. “He registered me in the parish register. In the weeks that followed, I met several members of the community and began to participate in parish activities.

Asked how the Fellowship has changed since he arrived in America as a graduate student, he replied, “I see Greek-Americans assimilating more and more generation after generation. Their quality of life and living conditions are improving; more people are getting a higher education and becoming productive and vital members of American society. On the negative side, I see the cohesion of the Greek-American community weakening and moving away from Greek Orthodox culture, language, traditions and the Church, despite the fact that there is still a hard core of Omogenia, proud members, holding the flame and upholding our values.

When asked what needs to be done, he replied, “We need the leaders and supporters of Hellenic culture to rise up and work to maintain our historic values. The family also plays an important role; parents must introduce, cultivate and encourage their children daily to participate in activities that reflect our values. Communities are trying with Sunday school and Greek schools, but these efforts are also losing support.

He added that “in everyday life, we need to remember where we come from and that we are part of a great legacy that has endured for centuries. For example, I observe second- and third-generation Hispanics and Asians and their children who maintain their cultural identity and speak their language at home and among themselves without the children having difficulty in school with the English language. Native Greece should also support [our efforts] providing educators and materials even to small communities, including online educational and cultural programs.

Papanicolaou is an active member of Saint Philip Parish and a member of AHEPA Chapter 35, where he served as president for many years. Today he is retired, lives in Nashua and visits Greece almost every year. His two children, on their own initiative, obtained Greek nationality and his two granddaughters, with the support and encouragement of their parents, attend classes at the Greeks School of Plato, in Brooklyn, NY.

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