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George Coles has pushed boundaries from his early days as a deck officer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to a two-decade tenure at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).

As a biomechanical and bioelectronics engineer at APL, he currently leads 60 engineers, scientists, and technicians responsible for electrical fabrication, supporting projects sponsored by the Department of the Treasury, NASA, and defense department agencies.

One of Coles’s early accomplishments at APL was developing metamaterials to safeguard US currency from counterfeiting. His contributions to polymer composites and carbon nanotube triodes for harsh environments have had far-reaching impacts, including enhanced medical care. Of note is an implantable pressure-actuated drug delivery system, which has the potential to save countless lives.

Further, Coles fosters inclusivity while serving as a representative on the APL’s women and minorities council and as a mentor for the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). His commitment to innovation and mentoring is an inspiration.

Accepting his career achievement award at the 2024 BEYA STEM Conference, Coles said that the award recognized his years of work toward his passion for learning and executing technology that helps society.

“It would not have been possible without a work environment that supports this type of drive,” Coles said. “At APL, the philosophy is that failure is only present if you do not learn from your mistakes and if you do not learn from not achieving a desired goal. The lessons from these moments are key to my success. APL has provided the scope that supported my growth and development and allowed me to be a candidate.

Coles continued: “This award allows me to share with others that investing in oneself and exposing yourself to different problems and fields of work is key to creating a mindset capable of embracing most situations and working with different personalities and teams to be successful. Our technologies are growing fast, requiring our present and future engineers and scientists to lean into exposing themselves to a wide variety and depth of knowledge in arts and sciences. However, for a good team to work, we must also sharpen our soft skills, which are the foundation for our ability to execute successfully. Last, I’d like to thank my wife, daughter, and sister for supporting my never-ending curiosity and for the moments when I can be difficult because I over-focus on my projects. This award is equally a recognition of their support and dedication.”

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