June 15, 2016 – Goodbye to Friend and Colleague Allen Everett


The Department of Physics and Astronomy notes with sorrow the passing of our esteemed friend and colleague Allen Everett.

Allen joined the Tufts Physics Department faculty in 1960, just after he completed a PhD in theoretical physics at Harvard. His early research was in the areas of nuclear and high energy physics, including the structure of the deuteron and the S-matrix approach to fundamental interactions. He was chair of the department between 1977 and 1980, and during this time recruited two theoretical physicists with interests in general relativity and theoretical cosmology, Alex Vilenkin and Larry Ford. Allen soon switched his attention to these areas, and the three of them founded the Tufts Institute of Cosmology, the first center in the United States devoted to theoretical cosmology. The Center has since achieved international prominence.

Allen and his colleagues sought to apply fundamental principles of particle physics to understand the processes in the early universe that gave rise to the universe that we see around us today. Allen researched the effects of phase transitions earlier in the history of the universe in forming topological defects, like cosmic strings and domain walls. The search for such defects still continues, and their detection would provide information about particle physics at the highest energies and about the early universe. Later he turned his attention to the deep question of the limits which the laws of physics place on faster than light travel and time travel. He did not seriously expect that these exotic effects actually occur in nature, but did believe that we can learn a great deal by probing the limits of physics and understanding why time travel is difficult or impossible.

Allen was also a dedicated teacher who cared deeply about the success of his students, and sought to give them an understanding of the key principles of physics. For several years, he taught an introductory calculus based physics course taken by all science and engineering majors at Tufts. He developed a course on time travel which appealed to a broad range of students, including those majoring in non-science areas. This course combined science fiction and a study of the basics of relativity theory. After his retirement in 2004, he built on that experience and his research to coauthor with Thomas Roman a book, "Time Travel and Warp Drives: A Scientific Guide to Shortcuts through Time and Space," which explains to non-experts what the laws of physics do say about faster than light travel and time travel. In recent years all graduating seniors in physics and astronomy have received a copy as a gift from the department.

Allen's generosity to Tufts, Tufts students, and the Physics-Astronomy Department did not end with his retirement. In the past few years he made substantial financial donations to secure the future of the Institute of Cosmology and endow a room in the department's new home at 574 Boston Ave. With characteristic humility, Allen insisted that both of these contributions be in the name of his late colleague Allan Cormack.