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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

NASA Scientist and ODU Alumnus Serkan Golge among Americans Facing Trial in Turkey on Coup Charges

By Jon Cawley

Serkan Golge, a NASA scientist and U.S. citizen who received his doctorate from Old Dominion University, was swept up in a purge after a failed coup in Turkey more than a year ago and remains in prison, separated from his family in Texas. The Turkish government has accused him of connections with the attempted military coup, an allegation his wife has denied.

During his time at Old Dominion, Golge, who holds dual U.S. and Turkish citizenship, conducted innovative research at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, in Newport News. Golge left the University in 2010 and later worked for NASA.

President John R. Broderick said, "I am alarmed and very concerned that one of our outstanding alums has been detained in Turkey. He is held in high regard by several members of our physics faculty who worked with him. We have reached out to our federal delegation and the state department to see if they can be of any assistance in this matter."

According to news reports, Golge was visiting Turkey when he was detained. At the time, he lived in Houston with his wife, Kubra Golge, and their two children and was working on a Mars-related exploration project examining the effects of radiation on astronauts. In an interview with CNN, she said the allegations against her husband are "ridiculous," and described the 14 months they've now been apart as "the most painful in my life."

The Turkish government accused Golge of having links to a cleric who lives in the United States and who they say is the man behind the attempt to overthrow Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's administration.

Those accusations were a "complete shock" to Charles Hyde, chair of the Old Dominion Department of Physics, Eminent Scholar and University professor. Hyde worked closely with Golge, advising him on his doctoral thesis: "Feasibility and Conceptual Design of a Continuous Wave Positron Source at Jefferson Lab."

Hyde said Golge's work focused on designing continuous, high-intensity "anti-matter beams," which have applications in materials science.

"It had never been done," Hyde said, of the development of non-pulsing Positron Beams.

In 2014, Hyde, Golge and another doctoral student, Mustafa Canan, were among 100 researchers from 30 institutions who participated in a Jefferson Lab experiment that probed a rare instance of asymmetry in the behavior of quarks. Their work was reported in the Journal Nature.

"He's very enthusiastic about his work, and not particularly political," Hyde said. "He's very friendly. Graduate school can be very stressful, but he was always a very relaxed person and open to new ideas."

Hyde said he and Golge have remained in touch. Their last conversation centered on the continuing development of ideas regarding the creation of Positron Beams.

"He's a great guy," Hyde said. "He's not involved in espionage or sabotage of the Turkish government. There's no evidence of substantive charges."

Arne Freyberger, an adjunct professor in ODU's Department of Physics, served as co-adviser with Hyde on Golge's doctoral thesis. He said Golge was the first student he advised.

"We both grew up together through that process," Freyberger said. "We developed a good relationship. He was a very good student, hard-working."

Freyberger, too, said the Turkish allegations were a surprise and recalled having Golge and his wife over for dinner, where they discussed the couple's move to the United States. Golge never expressed political leanings other than dismay over the violence taking place around the world, he said.

"They were making their life here and contributing to America," Freyberger said. "To have such an innocent trip end in disaster like this is surprising."