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Greek-American mechanical engineering pioneer George N. Hatsopoulos dies at 91

TAGS: Obituary, Science, Diaspora

The esteemed Greek-American mechanical engineer George N. Hatsopoulos, an MIT senior lecturer emeritus, has passed away at the age of 91, it was announced earlier this week.

Born in Athens in 1927, Hatsopoulos was co-founder of the Thermo Electron Corporation in 1956 along with Peter Nomikos, while at MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and was also responsible for developing the world's first artificial heart.

As CEO and chairman of Thermo Electron, Hatsopoulos turned the company into a global leader in analytical and monitoring instruments, according to MIT, which said that by the time he retired in 1999, Thermo Electron had over 24,000 employees in 23 countries and worked in industries ranging from medical devices and environmental systems to bomb detectors and biomass electric generation.

In 2006, Thermo Electron merged with Fisher Scientific to form Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies.

“Hatsopoulos demonstrated his ingenuity at a young age. Inspired by his many relatives who were engineers, he made an image projector using cellophane and light at the age of 6. He spent his early childhood enamored with Thomas Edison’s research and devoted much of his youth to studying Edison’s work,” MIT said in its obituary on the respected academic and engineer.

As a teenager in German-occupied Athens he built radios to secretly listen to Allied broadcasts even though Nazi soldiers had commandeered his family's and went on to study at the National Technical University of Athens. His academic career continued in the United States, where he received his bachelor’s degree, master of science degree, master of engineering degree and doctorate of science degree in mechanical engineering at MIT.

Another of many career highlights was the seminal textbook “Principles of General Thermodynamics,” published in 1965 with Joseph Keenan. 

In addition to The John Fritz Medal, Hatsopoulos was named a commander of the Order of Honor in Greece and Inventor of the Year by the Boston Museum of Science in 1990.

MIT remained an integral part of Hatsopoulos’s life after he retired in 1990 and he was made a life member emeritus of the MIT Corporation, the distinguished American university said on its website.

His daughter Marina followed in his footsteps, receiving her master’s degree in mechanical engineering at MIT in 1993, while his granddaughter is currently also studying in the same department.

Hatsopoulos died on September 20 in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

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