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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 13 August 2016
6 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 13 AUGUST 2016 NEWS DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Theodore Mouratidis - brains and brawn The aspiring rocket scientist returns to Melbourne after getting his double degree from MIT, with a new knee that he hopes will lead him to more medals and distinctions NELLY SKOUFATOGLOU Williamstown student Theodore Mouratidis, 23, is literally aiming for the stars after being awarded a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and physics from MIT in June this year. The high-achieving Spartan proved he combines brains and brawn by becoming the first Australian student to even complete a double degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Aspiring to become a budding rocket scientist, he was also the only student in his faculty to take on two majors that have the highest requirements of any two courses while maintaining a spot among the world's top ten strongest young powerlifters. Theodore, who is currently in Melbourne to recuperate after a total knee reconstruction, sat down with Neos Kosmos to share the secrets of his success. "I will return to Boston in September to commence my master’s degree in aerospace engineering at Oxford University, followed by a PhD in MIT," he says. "I won't be working this time, but I will be collaborating closely with big aer- ospace companies, doing research and trying to come up with funds for my project." For the coming academic year, Theodore plans to conduct research for Boeing regarding lightning protection for aircraft. In the meantime, he will be preparing and promoting his idea on nuclearbased space propulsion. "I dream big. I will be trying to develop what is called a fusion rocket, using nuclear fusion energy to propel a spacecraft," he explains. "Nuclear energy has been the holy grail of science for 60 years basically, with people trying to develop it as a sustainable energy source instead of fossil fuels, et cetera, for humans. So, my proposal is that if we can study fusion in a spacecraft context maybe we will unlock some keys to developing it as a sustainable energy source. It's very complex, new and pioneering. It is something I still have to work on because I will need to convince a lot of people." Up until recently, Theodore’s father, Steven, has been funding his studies but on entering graduate school, he realises there's no benefit for someone funding themselves. Being on the cusp of nuclear fusion using magnetic con- finement he understands he must present a solid idea "to find a space agency or someone in the sector who is willing to invest". "I've worked hard and I will keep working. My dreams keep me motivated," he says, acknowledging he has the support of some of the world's top professors at MIT. But how can someone rise above such a stressful workload and still excel not in one but in two majors while becoming a weight-lifting champion with an injured knee? "It helps if you have a photographic memory - a family trait," he laughs, and quickly comes back saying "I'm a big believer in being an allrounded person." "I prefer not to be a jack of all trades but a master of few." For Theodore, doing one complements the other. Sport is actually what gives him the drive and determination to succeed in his academic career. He follows the ancient Greeks’ example of pursuing a healthy body in order to obtain a healthy mind and vice versa. He deals with his workload just as his Spartan ancestors did with the Persians. "My benchmark is to give my best, whatever the challenge, all the time, despite the odds," he says, recounting the difficulties he went through due to his injured knee. "It is very time consuming. You finish lectures, work, and then you have to train for another two hours when you are already tired. Sometimes you have to work again after training for another three hours. I've made sleep a priority and give it at least eight hours a day. I also give my social life a break. Thankfully, most of my friends are into the same activities I like to do." Even though Theodore had just undergone meniscal cartilage replacement, he plans to return to powerlifting with more determination than ever. "I went through a lot of sports, starting with soccer, which is how I injured my knee. I transitioned to rowing, which I enjoyed, but it wasn't going very well because of the injury. Then I switched to powerlifting and even though you'd think it would damage my knee it didn't. "Although I'd been carrying this injury for more than two years now," he adds, "I feel powerlifting is my sport. My body responds to it and it helps me focus. It helps me clear my head." The 23-year-old is one of the 10 strongest powerlifters in his weightclass for the junior category. Even though he realises his knee will take a while to recover, the young rocket scientist aspires to enter the next World Championship. "The guy, for example, who went to the World Championship this year for Australia totalled 730, and I totalled 710 nine weeks ago, being still very injured and a junior." Academic and athletic prowess aside, Theodore also runs a motivational website (www. achievingpurpose.com) and is a long-time contributor to humanitarian projects in Third World countries. With a minor in history, the eloquent scientist-slash-powerlifter believes having a humanitarian approach in life is essential. "I always knew what I wanted to be, but before applying for MIT I figured that the emphasis is put not only on academic or sporting results, but on being a person who takes an interest in world issues and is able to live a balanced life. "Even though I find Australian people more friendly and relaxed, the Americans get into philanthropy from an early age in school and they are rigorous about university entry criteria. Our educational standards are relatively even, however, there is a certain disconnect regarding different aspects of life and subjects which complement each other, and most students don't aim for excellence even in that one major." Would he return to Australia after his studies? Well, it remains to be seen. He can tell with certainty that the culture in Melbourne and the laid-back way of life in comparison to Boston's hectic one is more appealing, yet, as much as he misses Australia and his Greek family, he believes the fast-paced and driven environment he has been exposed to keeps him on his toes, constantly focusing on his next goal. "In terms of staying here in Australia or going back, I must admit I would love to come back and ignite some kind of space industry out here, I'd love to build my own company, but the idea is at a very initial stage. "If people were willing to start that here I would be like 'yeah definitely', but at this stage I have to make a judgement call on where most opportunities lie for me. It doesn't hurt to dream, though, does it?
6 August 2016
20 August 2016