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Northeastern opens Rogers Corporation Innovation Center

When George J. Kostas, E’43, first began conversations with Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun six years ago about establishing a state-of-the-art security research facility, he had a unique vision. The facility—which ultimately opened in 2011 as the George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security—would go beyond advancing science and research in one of the nation’s most pressing fields. It would also enable unlikely industry-academic partnerships.

“Today, your vision is becoming a reality,” Aoun said on Tuesday morning at a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of the Rogers Corporation Innovation Center at the 70,000 square foot Kostas Research Institute in Burlington, Mass. The goal of the unique partnership—announced in June 2013—is to advance basic research and develop commercially viable breakthrough innovations in advanced materials to address global challenges for clean energy, Internet connectivity, safety, and security.

“Innovation and creativity are the basis for the future of this country,” Kostas said. “You have established a reputation of being great innovators.” The distinctive collaboration, he said, will improve security for the nation.

The 4,000-square-foot Rogers Corporation Innovation Center was built out over the last year. It is housed within a 9,000-square-foot space at the Kostas Research Institute that includes laboratories, conference rooms, and office space designed to facilitate communication and collaboration between the on-site Rogers staff members and the Northeastern faculty and students working alongside them. It includes space for Northeastern professor Vincent Harris’ spinout company.

With support from Kostas’ endowment, the partnership—which is expected to be the first of many at the institute—will also enable experiential learning opportunities through student research co-ops, sponsored research and development programs, and other industry-classroom interactions.

Since its inception more than 180 years ago as a paper company, Rogers Corporation has had to evolve to accommodate the shifting needs of the American people. Today, the company is a global technology leader in advanced materials and components for consumer and power electronics, transportation, telecommunications, and defense systems.

The opening celebration of the Rogers Corporation Innovation Center drew a crowd of Northeastern faculty, students, and staff as well as industry partners. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Rogers CEO Bruce Hoechner noted that perhaps the biggest evolution—and revolution—facing society today is technology. In an effort to match the pace of technological change, the company sought an academic partner to help it innovate more rapidly. Hoechner said Rogers was drawn to Northeastern because of its commitment to use-inspired research that addresses global challenges—particularly in health, security, and sustainability.

“We felt very much at home here,” Hoechner said. “We knew that we could find an academic organization here that was not only focused on developing new and great technology but also technology that has great application for the world.”

Aoun, for his part, noted that universities have traditionally shied away from industry partnerships. As a result, “they have restricted their impact on society,” he said. “This is why I’m very excited about this partnership—yes it’s unique, but it’s going to bring us together along different dimensions.”

First, Aoun said, the discoveries and technologies developed in universities only have impact when they meet the consumer. Second, lifting financial burden off of researchers enables a reverse innovation that allows products to enter the market more rapidly.

“We have to have a mindset that will bring together technology, consumers, cost, and—more importantly—the safety of the nation,” he said.