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Oxford encounter

Crossing paths with Memorial’s Rhodes Scholars

By Kelly Foss

Chance encounters are the stuff of Hollywood legend. A group of people coincidentally converging at the same place at the same time only happens in the movies. The stars could never possibly align in such a way in the real world, right?

But what began as an attempt by Dr. Paris Georghiou, a professor of chemistry at Memorial, to catch up with a former student who is currently a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, led to just such an encounter in October. While none of the group was a mathematics major, the calculation of the odds of such a meeting must certainly have been astronomical.

“I had always promised, or threatened, Luke Pike who was our 2007 Rhodes Scholar that I would visit him at Oxford,” said Dr. Georghiou. “In October I stopped in London en route from a stint at Norwich where I had been doing some research. I had previously spoken to a friend from Newfoundland who was going to be in Oxford visiting her mother at the same time, and we had planned to get together for tea.

“So that Saturday, I phoned Luke on his cell phone to make arrangements to get together that Sunday. I told him I wanted to invite a friend to join us and asked if he knew Francesca Swann, the host of the popular St. John’s CBC radio program, Musicraft.”

Although Mr. Pike didn’t know Ms. Swann, he repeated her name aloud thoughtfully, says Dr. Georghiou. Amazingly, who should be walking by him at that very moment …?

“I was walking along St. Giles en route from my Oxford High School reunion to Sainsbury’s supermarket to buy tomatoes,” says Ms. Swann. “As I walked past St. John’s College, a young man was leaning against an old lamppost talking on his cell phone. Just as I approached him, he said my name to the other person on the other end of the call. I stopped and said ‘That’s my name!’ There was a stunned silence and we looked quizzically at each other for a moment, then he asked me if I knew someone called Paris Georghiou.”

As if that weren’t coincidence enough, Mr. Pike, who had stopped by Oxford University to prepare for a social event for his power-lifting club, wasn’t the only person standing by the lamppost. Just prior to the cell phone call, he had bumped into an old friend, Paul Boland, who just happened to be Memorial University’s 2006 Rhodes Scholar and another former student of Dr. Georghiou.

“I was going to check my “pigeonhole” (mail) at St. John’s College,” said Mr. Boland. “I was chatting to Luke and unlocking my bike from a lamp post when Francesca overheard Paul talking to Paris. Somehow we all ended up there in front of St. John’s at the exact same moment.”

Dr. Georghiou is just as awed by the young Rhodes Scholars as he is by the serendipitous events that brought them all together that day in October.

“These young men are wonderful ambassadors of ours,” said Dr. Georghiou. “They’re working on some front line stuff. It’s my hope and understanding that both will eventually return to Newfoundland.”

Mr. Pike, who is originally from Grand Bank, is currently studying the molecular mechanisms of cell death in breast cancer, and how these pathways may be altered to allow cancer cells to survive the harsh micro-environmental stressors within the solid tumour mass.

Mr. Boland, a native of Corner Brook, is also interested in cancer research. He has completed an M.Sc. in diagnostic imaging and is now a D.Phil. student with the Nuffield Department of Surgery. His current work looks at using information derived from computer aided image processing of MRI and CT scans to address the currently underutilized role of diagnostic imaging in the surgical management and staging of head and neck cancers. He has completed two years of medical school at Memorial and after he finishes at Oxford he will return to Newfoundland to begin his third year.