It was at a young age that Lou Massa first became curious about how things worked – an interest that was sparked by his father and older brother, who were both mechanically inclined and, in his words, “could fix things.”
“I came to Le Moyne wanting to be an electrical engineer, but they didn’t offer that so my brother suggested I get into physics,” said Massa, a member of the class of 1961.
As it turned out, that career choice was an excellent decision. After receiving his Ph.D. at Georgetown in 1966 - followed by post-doc work at Brookhaven National Lab - in 1969 he began working as a professor of physics and chemistry at Hunter College in New York City, a job he still holds.
At the same time, he has also been involved with important research, including his work in the field of Quantum Crystallography (QCr)
, the combining of crystallographic data with quantum-mechanical mathematics to obtain information of enhanced value.
He collaborated for years with 1985 Noble Prize recipient Jerome Karle in research that was instrumental in significantly advancing QCr, work he says is probably his most notable professional accomplishment. “My work on QCr began when I was in graduate school with Professor Bill Clinton of Georgetown… Recently the field has blossomed and the importance of it has grown substantially.”
This important life’s work has its roots at Le Moyne, which was a little over a decade old when he first enrolled after growing up in nearby Jamesville, N.Y. The Massa family has close ties to the College – in addition to Lou, two brothers and a nephew also went to Le Moyne.
He credits Robert Brennan S.J., who was a member of the physics faculty at the time, with cementing his interest in the discipline. “He was a real physicist and became a great friend… In fact my first job offer was from Le Moyne. I didn’t take it because I wanted more education. Father Brennan said he was proud of me for turning it down.”
For all of his complex research in a field most find difficult to understand, Massa also worked to bring science to the general public through his hosting of a television show called “Science and the Written Word.”
“The purpose of the show was to be educational for the average person in society, but in an intellectual way,” he recalls of the program, which aired about 50 episodes. It was broadcast throughout the five boroughs of New York, and during its run in the early 2000s featured interviews with 10 Noble Prize recipients, including this show with Dr. Gertrude Elion
, a 1988 Nobel recipient.
The show reflects how Le Moyne instilled in him a desire for intellectual curiosity in areas beyond his chosen field.
“The most important part of my Le Moyne education was the liberal arts learning, not just in science but also philosophy and theology, and the history of the American revolution, which I still have an interest in,” he said. “These other areas help with the science because everyone you meet in science are intellectuals. Sure they are interested in science, but friendships are built up over broader areas of interest than just science."