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$10 million gift to CSUF will help students discover ‘absolute wonders’ of science



Nicholas Begovich has been fascinated with Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Gravitational-Wave Physics and Astronomy ever since he visited it on a campus tour and heard about the center’s contributions to the first discovery of gravitational waves in 2016.

Since then, the retired engineering executive has frequently met with physicists Joshua Smith, Geoffrey Lovelace and others at the center, quizzing them on their experiments and theories and poring over books to learn more about how the massive collision of two black holes produces those waves, which are ripples in the fabric of space-time.

On Saturday evening, Feb. 29, in a ceremony on the campus quad, CSUF officials announced that the 98-year-old Begovich and his wife, Lee, 91, an art historian and former first-grade teacher, are donating $10 million to the center, which will be renamed the Nicholas and Lee Begovich Gravitational-Wave Physics and Astronomy Center.

It’s hardly the usual donation, however. The Fullerton couple are handing over to the center their collection of 15 postwar European sports cars — including a Pegaso, Lamborghini, Talbot-Lago, Ferrari and a DeTomaso Pantera Coupe — which eventually will be sold.

Before the ceremony, Nicholas Begovich said he wants to expose Cal State Fullerton students to the “absolute wonders” of science.

“If you look at what Einstein did 100 years ago, he predicted gravitational waves, and he did it by sitting at a table with a pad of paper and pencil and cooked it up in his mind,” Begovich said. “It took 100 years to get the technology to actually measure what he said. That’s absolutely amazing — that a human mind can think of something that it took us 100 years to measure.”

The gift will support the center’s internationally known faculty and student gravitational-wave research, and interdisciplinary research in sustainable energy and power in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, officials said.

The Begoviches’ donation is also being touted as the lead gift for “It Takes a Titan: The Campaign for Cal State Fullerton,” a $200 million comprehensive campaign set to launch March 12. The five-year philanthropic effort is the first comprehensive campaign in the university’s 63-year history and focuses on serving as a catalyst to inspire students, launch careers and improve lives, said CSUF President Fram Virjee.

“With the Begoviches’ gift, we are at $126 million,” Virjee told the audience of faculty, students, alumni and donors Saturday. “We are at 63 percent of our goal.”

The couple has made a total of $12 million in gifts to CSUF. Over the past 50 years, their support has centered on the arts, Pollak Library and the President’s Scholars Endowment Fund. Following a $1 million gift to the Arts Department in 2010, the Main Art Gallery was renamed the Nicholas and Lee Begovich Gallery in their honor.

“I am just incredibly honored that Nick and Lee would chose to bestow this gift upon us,” Smith, professor of physics and Dan Black Director of Gravitational-Wave Physics and Astronomy, said at the ceremony. “This is something Nick has worked his entire life to curate.

“I’m really proud and excited about what it’s going to do for Cal State Fullerton,” he added. “This incredible gift enables the renovation and expansion of the campus center and its capabilities, and also bolsters Cal State Fullerton’s role in advancing humanity’s exploration of the universe.”

Gravitational waves, which travel at the speed of light and stretch and squeeze the distances between things in their path, open up a new field of astronomy where scientists can use gravity to see objects such as black holes, neutron stars and supernova explosions, center scientists say.

Cal State Fullerton is part of LIGO, an international collaboration with more than 1,000 members around the world. LIGO’s observations are carried out by twin detectors in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, La., and are operated by Caltech and MIT.

Smith and his colleagues are also working with MIT, Caltech, Syracuse University and Pennsylvania State University, to help design the next-generation gravitational-wave observatory in the United States, dubbed “Cosmic Explorer.”

Nicholas Begovich said he began collecting foreign sports cars, many straight from the factory, in the early 1950s. The 15 donated cars — ranging from a 1952 Jaguar XK120 from England to a 1953 Pegaso Z102B from Spain and a 1956 Porsche Speedster from Germany — will be sold by the Cal State Fullerton Philanthropic Foundation at the proper time, officials said.

Begovich has said he wants to identify qualified buyers with an interest in the collection, and prefers buyers who would like to keep large parts of the collection together and ensure the university receives maximum value for the gift.

For information about the sale of the cars, contact Hart Roussel, director of Planned Giving at Cal State Fullerton, 657-278-5429,

To learn more about the “It Takes a Titan: The Campaign for Cal State Fullerton,” visit

Source: Orange County Register

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