Aristeidis Karalis always imagined a career in math and science. What he couldn’t have predicted was just how successful his research in wireless electricity transmission would become.
In many ways, Aristeidis Karalis always knew he’d wind up spending some of his academic career in the United States. Growing up in Athens, Greece, as the son of a physics teacher, Aristeidis says his family always expected he’d earn a graduate degree in America—taking advantage of the country’s preeminent science and engineering programs. “It was in my genes,” Aristeidis says, “I grew up loving math and physics.” So after finishing an undergraduate degree in electrical and computer engineering in his native country in 2001, he says it was an emotional experience for his whole family: “I was inside a CD store, and I remember my mom calling me, sobbing with tears, when my MIT acceptance letter arrived,” he says, “It was an amazing moment.”
But not as amazing as some of the things he went on to accomplish during his time in Massachusetts. While studying photonics at MIT in 2005, Aristeidis was one of three researchers who began a project looking at the possibility of using magnetic coils to transmit electricity wirelessly. Although it began as a small effort, by 2007, Aristeidis and the research team, which included two other immigrants from Croatia and Brazil, had demonstrated they could power a 60-watt light bulb from a power source two meters away. “I knew then that this thing—our baby—was really happening,” Aristeidis says.
And it happened fast. Later that year, after getting substantial interest from angel investors, Aristeidis and several other scientists founded WiTricity Corporation, a Watertown, Massachusetts-based firm designed to commercialize the technology. Today Aristeidis says the firm employs about 55 people; it has also successfully raised tens of millions of dollars in financing.
Many in the industry see big possibilities for WiTricity’s technology. The firm currently has partnerships with Toyota, Audi, Delphi and IHI to develop a product that would allow an electric car to be charged wirelessly—something Aristeidis says could be as simple as parking the car over a small charging device. WiTricity has licensing agreements with consumer electronics giants Intel and Mediatek, which aim to produce components for wirelessly powering consumer electronics devices, such as smartphones, laptops, televisions, and projectors. But Karalis says he’s most excited about a partnership his firm has with the medical device company Thoratec to develop a safer way to charge Ventricular Assist Devices, heart-pumping aids that now must be powered through wires coming out of the patient’s body—a requirement that severely limits a patient’s mobility and sometimes causes dangerous infections. “All my life I’ve been playing with equations and math,” Aristeidis says, “I’d never imagined that by doing that I would one day wind up in a situation where I could potentially save peoples’ lives.”