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An Investor Ignites Discovery

Visionaries like George Kostas, E’43, H’07, are not hemmed in by the seemingly impossible.

These big-picture thinkers surmount obstacles, dive into challenges headlong, and empower others to take action. Since 2003, when Kostas began investing in nanotechnology and security research at Northeastern—his three gifts total $16 million—faculty have made rapid gains in biopharmaceuticals, communications, energy, medicine, and defense.

Numbers merely hint at the compounding power of Kostas’ support. In nanotech alone, 36 researchers have joined Northeastern’s faculty. Their work has led to $80 million in new federal and private grants, 200 patents, and more than 1,000 scien­tific papers.

The key to such yields, Kostas asserts, is putting “as many brains as possible to work on a problem.” To thrust progress into high gear, he says, universities must reimagine their relationship to industry and government. Instead of working in isolation to build technologies on the na­noscale or combat global terrorism, faculty-researchers must link their intellectual creativity to industry’s profit-driven pragma­tism and the government’s deep resources.

When Northeastern needed innovation incubators, Kostas provided equipment and facilities, including the 70,000-square-foot George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security, for which he pledged $12 million. To this alumnus, the university is a model for doing things differently.

Kostas looks back with pride on so much ingenuity, knowing that society, and the country, will be the better for it. The man whom President Joseph E. Aoun has called a “patriot and a hero” deflects praise, deferring instead to Northeastern’s take-the-lead, mission-driven culture.

“Partnerships that accelerate tech­nologies are the best way to make a positive impact on the world,” Kostas told a gathering of researchers at Northeastern last spring. “Through your creativity, you will not only drive the world’s economy, you will keep your country safe.”