LOWELL -- Mark Saab still remembers watching objects being molded inside the plastics engineering lab at the University of Lowell during his first tour through it more than 30 years ago.
Then a young chemical-engineering student, Saab said he couldn't believe how hands-on the study of malleable plastics was.
"It was something I could touch and see, as opposed to some chemicals going on inside a reactor," Saab said.
Saab switched his major to plastics engineering. And in 1989, Saab and his wife, Elisia, founded Advanced Polymers Inc., a manufacturer of medical-device components in Salem, N.H., which they still operate today.
Soft and flexible plastics are key to a wide range of cutting-edge products, including
The Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technology and Innovation Center is designed to bring together researchers and industry professionals in a wide range of technology and science fields, including nanotechnology and plastics manufacturing. SUN / BOB WHITAKER
Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our MyCapture site. minimally invasive medical devices designed to reach target areas in the body through a tiny incision, Saab said. When he heard UMass Lowell was trying to build an emerging-technology center that could help expand the possibilities of plastics even more, Saab and his wife did not think twice about throwing their support behind the project.
"It's overwhelming," Saab said after seeing the new sign bearing his and his wife's names in recognition of their financial contribution to the project.
On Saturday, UMass Lowell formally unveiled the name for the Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technology and Innovation Center. The contribution of Saab, a 1981 graduate, and his wife to the $80 million center's construction and to other university projects make the Lowell couple the largest individual donors to the university, according to UMass Lowell.
The center, which was built with $35 million in state funding and $10 million in federal funding, had its grand opening in October. It is designed as a place to bring together researchers and industry professionals in a wide range of technology and science fields, including nanotechnology and plastics manufacturing.
UMass Lowell has raised $75 million in private gifts and pledges over the past six years, breaking its previous record, according to the university.
The Saabs are among 13 people who belong to the university's Circle of Distinction, which recognizes those who donate $1 million or more in a lifetime. A portion of the Saabs' gift will also endow a fellowship in Portuguese studies at UMass Lowell.
UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan said donations from individuals are becoming ever-more important to the university as state funding dwindles. During Saturday's ceremony, Meehan thanked the Saabs for their generosity and commitment to Mark Saab's alma mater.
The Saabs said they hope the research center will become a catalyst for the development of more academic buildings on campus. They also hope their contribution will inspire other alumni to pitch in to help advance research.