Sashi Satpathy, Patricia Okker, Catherine Boain, Ronald Boain and Alexander N. Cartwright stand for a photo

From left, Sashi Satpathy, Patricia Okker, Catherine Boain, Ronald Boain and Alexander Cartwright stand for a photo at the end of a press conference Friday for a $1.28 million donation to the MU Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Physics Library.

A gift of $1.28 million has been given to the MU Department of Physics and Astronomy to help students develop academically and professionally.

The Ronald J. Boain and Catherine J. Rangel Boain Endowment Fund will have $1.25 million to help undergraduate and graduate students in physics and astronomy with expenses related to professional development — speakers, career fairs and internship support.

An additional gift of $30,000 will contribute to the Boain Ph.D. Dissertation Award in Physics and the Boain Ph.D. Student Travel Fund.

The award will recognize the best dissertations, and the travel fund will support conference travel and research collaboration for doctoral students. Both funds were implemented last year.

Sashi Satpathy, MU Curators’ professor of physics and chair of the physics and astronomy department, said that doctoral students will now have the chance to attend conferences like the American Physical Society conference in Washington D.C. and conduct experiments in national laboratories like the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright announced the gift amount in a press conference Friday morning.

Ronald Boain, a 1965 MU graduate in physics and former NASA employee, said the donation was inspired by his appreciation for the institution that provided him with the foundations for his own career.

“It is my hope it will help other students, like me, see opportunities in industry, government and private and public research facilities during their years beyond graduation,” Boain said.

Following his father Walter Boain, who attended the university to play football under the legendary Don Faurot, Boain entered MU as a freshman in 1961. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics in 1965 and continued on to earn his master’s degree in 1967.

Just two years after his graduation, Boain was working in Houston on contingency analysis for Apollo 11, the program that successfully sent the first men to the moon.

In 1975, Boain was offered a job with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

During his 40 years at the laboratory, Boain worked as a group supervisor, project manager, program manager, project system engineer, chief engineer and was assigned to NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Boain was awarded the Exceptional Achievement Medal in 2007 for his work on the CloudSat spacecraft, which was created to study the effects of clouds and aerosols on climate, weather and air quality.

Boain retired in 2011, and he and his wife returned to Columbia from their home in California in 2016. The Boains have now been consistent financial supporters of MU physics and astronomy for 50 years.

Boain said he hopes his support is used to encourage students to pursue careers in the increasingly broad and diversified field of physics.

The combination of biology and physics to form biophysics was unimaginable when Boain was studying at MU, and he said he is excited for the future opportunities in physics that students will have access to.

“I’m a believer that physics and a physics degree have applicability to more than just teaching and becoming a college professor,” Boain said. “People who come into the physics curriculum and study physics need to appreciate that there are more options for them.”

Boain’s desire for rising physics and astronomy students corresponds with those of the MU College of Arts and Science.

“We really emphasize helping students learn how to think, not what to think,” said Patricia Okker, dean of the MU College of Arts and Science.

“We are a college where we are focused on thinking and doing. We prepare students for careers, including careers that do not yet exist.”

  • I am a fall 2019 state government reporter. I am studying data journalism. Reach me at or at 816-244-7488 with story tips and ideas.

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