As a young boy, much to his dismay, John Katsoudas (M.S. PHYS ’03) had a clearly defined role in the family business. It started with wrapping doughnuts.

His father, a restaurateur, had a contract to make 20,000 donuts for Chicago Public Schools. Young Katsoudas was the only one who could operate the machine that could wrap them. So that’s what he did for three days every summer.

“I hate doughnuts, I cannot tell you, I hate doughnuts,” Katsoudas now says. When anything broke at Sunny Donuts, Katsoudas’s father would wake him up at 3 a.m. to repair it. The pre-teen would stumble to a hardware store on Chicago’s South Side where the white-haired gearheads behind the counter would barrage him with advice, most of it good. At night he’d take apart the machines, numbering each of the hundreds of pieces so he could eventually put them together again.

“My dad couldn’t build a bookshelf if his life depended on it,” Katsoudas says. “The first time I put my hand on 120 Volts (of electricity) was at age 12.”

Now Katsoudas is messing with electricity again, co-inventing a fuel he hopes will save the world. He acknowledges the uphill battle, but says he’ll tackle it with the determination he earned growing up on Chicago’s South Side.

“The poor kid never got any sleep,” remembers his sister, Stella Katsoudas, a rock singer who sang under the stage name Sister Soleil, releasing multiple albums with Universal Records.

This story was featured in the spring 2023 issue of Illinois Tech Magazine. You can read the full story on the Illinois Tech Magazine website

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