About George Stephanopoulos

George was born in Kalamata, Messinia, Greece; a city which is still one of Greece’s best kept secrets. Her physical beauties,  historical sites (from ancient Greece, through Byzantine times, to the period of Crusades, and to the revolutionary war of 1821), rich infrastructure in arts, and a mild climate all year round, make Kalamata one of the most attractive return destinations for those who were fortunate to discover her graces.

He attended the 7th Public Primary School and the Paralia Gymnasium, a high school that focused on classic education in history, humanities and social sciences. He took 6 years of ancient Greek and Latin, and while in high school he was on the school’s soccer team and spent four years swimming competitively and playing water polo for Kalamata’s swim club. (Little-known fact: during the swimming years he even coached Yanni, the future New Age musician).

After high school he entered the School of Chemical Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), despite lacking any knowledge whatsoever about what the subject actually entailed. He has never regretted his uninformed decision and has always thanked his guardian angel for steering him away from other directions that he may have inadvertently followed. His Diploma research thesis was a combination of experimental and computational work. He built the experimental apparatus for combusting droplets of liquid fuels under controlled flow conditions, and (as an aspiring cinematographer) measuring the combustion rates through ultra-high speed cinematography. The data were compared against computational predictions from the solution of Navier-Stokes within embedded reaction networks. Despite the pleasure at watching things burn in real time, this work proved to be his last venture in experimental work, and from then on he focused entirely on computational work.

Following graduation from NTUA he attended Chemical Engineering at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, where he pursued a Master of Engineering degree (1970-71), completing his Master’s thesis on “Optimal Temperature and Catalyst Renewal Policies in a Tubular Reactor with Catalyst Decay”, under the direction of Professor Cam Crow. He continued with PhD studies in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Florida, a place that was bursting with excitement and vitality.  He was fortunate to work with Professor Art Westerberg, the reason that he went to Florida, on Process Synthesis and Non-Convex Optimization. It was Rutherford Aris’ seminar visit at the University of Florida that opened the door for his joining the Department of Chemical Engineering and Material Sciences at the University of Minnesota (1974), where his biggest problem was addressing Aris, Amundson, Scriven and the other demigods of the discipline in informal terms.

His professional academic upbringing in education and research was deeply shaped by the prevailing norms and ethic he encountered at Minnesota, and the vision and attitudes of his new colleagues. An appreciable part of what he is today is due to the Minnesota experience. The remaining is owed to MIT and his stint at Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation. At Minnesota he was blessed with an exceptional group of graduate students, who allowed him to pursue bold new initiatives in (a) synthesis of plant-wide control structures, (b) interaction between process design and control, and (c) process monitoring and diagnosis.

Despite these productive times in America, George yearned for his homeland, and returned to his alma mater as a Professor in 1980. His tenure in the School of Chemical Engineering at the National Technical University was short lived (3.5 years) but very productive, both personally and professionally. He found Eleni (a mere week after he arrived in Athens) and, always one to recognize a good thing when he found it, married her within 10 months. Their son Nikos was born, and George wrote his signature textbook, “Chemical Process Control: An Introduction to Theory and Practice”. Before he left to join MIT in January 1984, he had mentored three classes of exceptional Greek students, 25 of whom are today professors in the US and Europe, with several of them having established stellar international reputation.

His return to the US was blessed with the birth of Elvie. At MIT, Chemical Engineering under the stewardship of Jimmy Wei, was becoming the place to be; incredible excitement and academic dynamism. Within this ambitious environment, George pioneered several new research directions that have had long-lasting influence, centered on the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). He formed LISPE (Laboratory for Intelligence Systems in Process Engineering).  With an incredibly talented group of graduate students and postdocs, and a 30-company research consortium he started to explore the use of AI approaches and methodologies in fields as diverse as: automation of process modeling through high-level languages; synthesis and design of processing systems; process operations monitoring and diagnosis; integrated plant-wide process control with operations planning and optimization; design of molecules with desired properties; computer-aided synthesis of metabolic pathways; process safety; and others.  1984-1995 saw a period of intense activity in integrating AI with classical systems theory (optimization, dynamics and control), and was followed by a second research consortium of 15 pharmaceutical companies aiming at the systematic formulation of manufacturing systems with batch/continuous processes and environmental consideration.

In 2000 his professional life took a drastic turn when he took a temporary leave from MIT and joined Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation (MCC) as their Chief Technology Officer and Executive Managing Officer. During the subsequent two years he immersed himself in the structural and cultural reformation of MCC with the goal of: Aligning R&D strategy more tightly with business strategy; transforming Corporate and Business-unit R&D into extrovert organizations with extensive interactions with universities, national laboratories, and corporate alliances, worldwide; and setting new R&D targets, which would eventually transform MCC’s R&D organization and the company from a process-centered to a product centered model.  In 2002 he stepped down as CTO and returned to MIT. However, for the next three years, he continued to supervise the R&D reformation from his position as a member of the Board of Directors. This five-year experience took a heavy physical toll on him, having to shuttle between Boston and Tokyo on a monthly basis.  In the fall of 2005 he stepped down, and maintained a position as advisor to the President and CTO of the company for another 4 years.

George’s research and teaching interests have covered many aspects of Process Systems Engineering, such as: process synthesis; process optimization; process operations modeling, analysis, diagnosis, planning and control.  Besides chemical processes, his systems engineering interests led him into a variety of other types of systems, addressing research issues related to the design, analysis, control, optimization of systems, like: networks of chemical or biochemical reactions; integrated manufacturing systems within the scope of a national economy or corporate business; city traffic networks and intercity transportation networks; systems approaches to the design and manufacturing of products; and process systems engineering for integrated molecular-nanoscale processes. Recalling the old dictum, attributed to Aristotle, “a well-formulated problem is half-solved”, in all of his research activities the focus has been primarily on the “problems”; understanding them and uncovering their essential features.

In the course of his academic life he has been blessed with exceptional students and postdoctoral associates, who have gone on to create remarkable carriers for themselves in academia, industry, financial world, entrepreneurial business ventures, politics, and other. More than 30 of his PhD students and postdocs are today in academia, and his students-based academic family tree includes more than 850 members.

For his work George has received a number of recognitions, including election to the National Academy of Engineering (1999), American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2012), Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Technological Sciences, 1991, and has received an Honorary Doctorate from McMaster University. AIChE has honored him with the Colburn Award (1982), Walker Award (2003), and Founders Award (2012), and selected him as the Institute Lecturer in 2003. In addition to the many other recognitions, he has received over the years, he has given 28 honorary lectureships at various universities.

At a personal level, George is an avid reader, an aspiring photographer, and a world traveler. Although he reads books from a very broad range of subjects, history, history of religion, detective stories, and math are his favorite. As a photographer he helps Eleni record the street murals around the world, and put them in her books. As a world traveler, he likes to get to know the people in their villages, towns, and homes.  Whenever the opportunity presents itself, he will also dance with Eleni on any music that is playing.

Today, George lives with Eleni in Winchester, MA. Nikos is an Assistant Professor at the School of Molecular Sciences, and member of the Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University; and Elvie, is a senior marketing executive at a boutique creative agency in San Francisco.