Plenty of couples have college degrees. Some received them at the same time, from the same school.
But Dorin and Luminita Todor on Sunday became the first husband and wife to simultaneously receive doctorates in physics from Old Dominion University. They were among more than 3,000 people who graduated from ODU during a ceremony at Scope.
The pair took a quantum leap from their native Romania, where they met as freshmen at the University of Bucharest. They landed in Norfolk, where their successes are far from theoretical.
At ODU, Dorin blazed a new path pursuing research that merged physics and medicine. Luminita received an award from the American Association of Women in Science as the best female graduate student in the United States.
Both have already started post-doctoral fellowships at prestigious institutions - he at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, she at the Jefferson Lab at Newport News. All while rearing two children.
Both admit to a bit of good-natured competitiveness, which they say has been muted at ODU, where they have tried to avoid taking the same classes at the same time.
"We didn't measure our performances with respect to each other," said Dorin, 38. "But there was an awareness that if one of us did better in something, the other would try to do at least that much."
Who got better grades at ODU? They'd rather not say, but both exceeded 3.7 on a 4-point scale.
"Sometimes we would be joking, 'If somebody would hire both of us, they'd have the perfect scientist,'" Dorin said. "We somehow complement each other."
Luminita, 37, says Dorin's more practical, working to improve the success of cancer treatments. She's more theoretical, dealing with quarks and other miniscule particles of nuclear physics. "We help each other to reach a better level."
ODU has been delighted with husband and wife. "Both are wonderful people, and both did extremely good work," said Jim Cox, chairman of the physics department.
The Todors got interested in physics as teenagers. They say physics is the ultimate mental exercise - "doing something which was really challenging, and seeing what your limits are," Dorin said.
After receiving the equivalent of master's degrees in Bucharest, the Todors decided to move to the United States. The Communist regime was crumbling, so the veil of oppression was slowly lifting. But it was not a good time to be a scientist there, they said.
"The resources that you have at hand and the ability to interact with people from other places were very limited," Dorin said.
They made a pact: "The deal was, the first one who get s a stable position is the winner," Dorin said. "The other one will pretty much follow."
Luminita was the winner. She was hotly pursued by ODU and enrolled in January 1995. Dorin stayed behind in Romania with the children. ODU extended him an offer a semester later, and they were reunited that fall in Norfolk.
The couple talk about ODU lovingly - the education they received; the warmth of faculty, staff and graduate students. "You have immediately the feeling that you are among friends," Dorin said.
Both made their mark at the university. Luminita was among eight recipients of a fellowship from the Southeastern Universities Research Association, which manages Jefferson Lab. Her work at the lab is sponsored by Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Dorin helped revise the freshman lab course at ODU. The university has no medical physics program so he struck out on his own, teaming with a professor, Gary Copeland, and a Virginia Beach physicist, Raymond Wu, to do cancer research.
Their work in the field of imaging, looked at ways of better targeting radiation doses in patients. "Now you do your best in delivering the prescribed doses, but you don't know what is happening," Dorin said.
Cox, the chairman, said a doctoral student "has to do independent work, but in Dorin's case it was highly independent and original."
Since the fall, Dorin has been living in New York, coming back to Norfolk every few weeks. "Our wish for the future is to be under the same roof," somewhere in America, he said. But neither is complaining.
"We had a big chance, and we have met exceptional people," Luminita said. "I love this country. I'm feeling appreciated for what we are, and we are looking with optimism toward the future."
Submitted: Tuesday, December 18, 2001 - 1:00am