Marina Otis Spiropoulos, J70, may not have achieved her dream of being an astronaut, but you could say she made it to Mars.
All five Mars land rovers were held together by fasteners her company designed and manufactured. The key to her success, she says, came down to physics.
“I have used physics every day in my career to solve problems, like why do things break,” says Spiropoulos, who majored in physics at Tufts, with a minor in mathematics. “It’s all about physics. You draw on knowledge of math and proportion. You test, analyze, and test again to get a more precise outcome.”
Now Spiropoulos has given physics students at Tufts a space to launch their own careers by naming a physics classroom at the Collaborative Learning and Innovation Complex (CLIC). The Spiropoulos Family Classroom is a gift from Spiropoulos, her son, Troy, and grandson, Dimitri.
Spiropoulos grew up in Boston. Her father, a Greek immigrant and business owner, insisted his two children become doctors. While her brother followed that path, Spiropoulos had other ideas. She liked chemistry and physics and won the top science award at the prestigious Girls’ Latin in Boston. As the U.S. space program began to develop, she dreamed of becoming an astronaut.
When she graduated from Tufts in 1970, Spiropoulos was one of just three women in her class to earn a degree in physics. She recalls that her aptitude was challenged at times by prevailing stereotypes. Kathryn McCarthy, J44, G46, a Tufts-trained physicist who became the university’s first woman provost in the mid-1970s, was always there for her. “She was an inspiration to me and a wonderful role model,” Spiropoulos says.
She was admitted into a Ph.D. program at UCLA, but without her father’s blessing, she had to find a job instead. In 1979, she started the company Fastener Innovation Technology Inc. with her husband, James. Spiropolous was the firm’s chief financial officer and chief executive officer for 31 years, until they sold it in 2010.
Over the years, she designed and manufactured a variety of specialized aerospace fasteners. The company’s titanium products and other parts have been used in every military aircraft since the late 1970s, as well as in ground systems, navigational guidance systems, and satellites.
A member of the board of advisors to the School of Arts and Sciences, Spiropolous has also donated to undergraduate scholarships and a fellowship that funds a semester of study in Athens. On a recent visit to CLIC, she expressed her pleasure with the new physics classroom. “To be part of a new chapter for the department, and a beautiful new space, that’s a great honor,” she says. “I am very happy, very proud.”