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Thomas Preuss


The science of giving

The science of giving

If you look back in history prior to the 20th century, you see a lot of the great discoveries were made by people who had opportunities through family wealth or wealthy benefactors. I wonder what brilliant ideas and opportunities were also missed because so many really bright people never got the opportunity because of their circumstances. What would the world be like if those people had been given a chance?

That’s why we decided to donate a bequest to RMIT – it’s really giving back what was given to me when I was at uni, with a little interest.


When I was in high school, the head mistress said to our class, “Honestly, I don’t think anyone at this school could ever be capable of becoming a physicist”. I took this as a challenge and decided to become a physicist. I came across a career brochure suggesting RMIT as the place to study physics, so in 1976 I started an orientation program at RMIT’s Building 51.

I had to support myself living away from home, without family support and working part-time. For most of my Masters degree I was supported by a John Storey Junior Scholarship: Sir John’s bequest filtered down to me and changed my life in a positive way, allowing me to contribute to Australian science. [Sir John Storey donated a bequest to support scholarships at RMIT in the 1950s, in honour of his son, who passed away at age 22.]

I’m passionate about physics. Along with mathematics, it provides a framework for understanding the mechanisms of the things around us. I feel happier if things can be explained and understood, everything has a reason and an answer. When you look closer things can be even more surprising than they first appear, and that can be very exciting. Occasionally physics has provided me with “Ah ha!” moments when you discover something new – and you were the first person to ever see it.

Physics is one of the basic sciences – it is the most fundamental understanding before the ideas all get turned into engineering application. It removes God from the equation and challenges us to understand what is really going on.

I met my partner at RMIT, where we had a number of undergraduate lectures together and interacted in the x-ray diffraction laboratory. It was his idea to give the bequest. He really believes that education is very important for Australia’s future. He worked most of his time at RMIT maintaining the labs in the Physics department and I think he just wants to make sure that the work still gets done and that someone else can have the same opportunities he had.

We are donating a bequest to RMIT to support a scholarship for physics students and a provision to support the maintenance of equipment for research and teaching.

We don’t have children, so the charitable bequest aims to make an ongoing difference by providing opportunities for students. Our scholarship will support physics students who can demonstrate academic excellence and financial disadvantage.

The bequest also includes a technical fund to support the maintenance of the equipment for research and teaching in physics. This was my partner’s idea, as he has spent much of his time maintaining physics labs. We want to make sure the work still gets done and that others have the same opportunities we had.

Giving the bequest just seemed like the right thing to do. RMIT helped me to get where I am now, and I want to say thank you, and also give something back.

Thomas Preuss completed a Bachelor of Applied Science in Applied Physics, awarded in 1980.

Top image: Thomas Preuss pictured in RMIT's physics facilities. Photo by Carla Gottgens. Background image: Detail from RMIT's Swanston Academic Building.

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