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Brad Petersen
Director of
Communications
2052 ECE Building
306 N. Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: (217) 244-6376
bradp@illinois.edu

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Meg Dickinson
Communications Specialist
2016 ECE Building
306 N. Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801
Phone: (217) 300-6664
megd@illinois.edu

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Dominguez-Garcia and Pop receive NSF CAREER Awards

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By Susan Kantor, ECE ILLINOIS
March 1, 2010

  • ECE Profs. Alejandro Dominguez-Garcia and Eric Pop are recipients of the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
  • Dominguez-Garcia's proposal focuses on creating reliability analysis tools for planning and operation of the next generation of electrical energy systems.
  • Pop's proposal addressed this by looking at fundamental issues of energy dissipation in nanoscale materials, transistors, and circuits.

ECE Assistant Professors Alejandro Dominguez-Garcia and Eric Pop are recipients of the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). These awards are among the most prestigious given to young faculty.

This award is unique because it is divided almost equally for contributions to both research and education.

“This is unlike any other award that we might get,” Pop said.

“It’s gratifying in a sense because it validates the things you’ve been thinking about,” Dominguez-Garcia said.

Alejandro  Dominguez-Garcia
Alejandro Dominguez-Garcia

Dominguez-Garcia’s proposal focuses on creating reliability analysis tools for planning and operation of the next generation of electrical energy systems. “These systems are undergoing radical transformations due to the integration of new technologies like wind-based generation, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, more power electronics,” he said. “As the system evolves, it’s important to understand what the effect of integrating those new technologies could be.”

Research in power systems reliability often focuses on the physical layer—things like what happens if a transmission line goes off. Dominguez-Garcia is researching how failures in the cyber infrastructure can affect the system operation as a whole.

He will look at understanding the coupling between physical infrastructure for communication and control that is used to control power systems.

“The issue is that there is an increased reliance on communication and control to operate the power grid,” he said. “As that reliance increases, it is not clear how it’s going to affect the system’s reliability.”

Dominguez-Garcia will also research what happens when the actual power system is pushed closer to its physical limits, and he will create mechanisms for enhancing the fault-tolerance and self-healing capabilities of power systems.  By the end of this project, he hopes to create better modeling techniques that could help predict and prevent massive failures, such as the 2003 blackout.

To fulfill the educational component of the award, Dominguez-Garcia will work both with the University and in the community. He plans on creating educational materials to help bridge the gaps between the fields of power and energy systems, reliability, and control. He hopes to recruit more minority and female students through the Office of Minority Student Affairs.

He plans on working with community colleges to develop materials to train technicians who could work with power systems.

Eric  Pop
Eric Pop

Pop will also work with power and energy, but on a much different scale.

Today’s electronics, from iPods and laptops to massive data centers, use 5-10% of the United States’ electricity. Importantly, this use has doubled in the past five years and will continue to rise with the on-going explosion from personal electronics to cloud computing. Pop’s proposal addressed this by looking at fundamental issues of energy dissipation in nanoscale materials, transistors, and circuits. Particular attention is being paid to carbon nanoelectronics, which have both thermal and electrical advantages over silicon.

“This is also relevant from an environmental point of view,” Pop said. “If you’re talking about electronics consuming ten percent of nationwide power, and that number possibly tripling in the next twenty years, that’s a significant chunk of carbon emissions, coal, and other types of fuels.”

Pop will study energy dissipation starting at the atomic level to find the most energy-efficient materials.

“We want to understand the issue of heating and thermal breakdown in nanoelectronics. We also plan to develop simulation models, which we validate against electrical measurements and thermal imaging of these nanostructures,” Pop said.

Pop and his graduate students will work with local high schools and give presentations about their research. He will also continue an ongoing collaboration with the NSF-sponsored nanoHUB.org, a Web site that reaches hundreds of countries through educational videos, course materials, and computer programs. The Pop group already has several simulation codes, lectures, and educational videos posted on the nanoHUB.

Pop’s proposal also included the idea of a Web-accessible probe station, which is now in its testing stages. Eventually, University of Illinois students and even researchers from around the world will be able to take direct nanoscale measurements 24 hours a day from Pop’s lab.

“A lot of people in a lot of countries do not have access to really good quality data for research,” Pop said. “And most scientists who have access to data only publish a very small percentage of the massive amounts their labs generate. We want to make such data available to everybody, around the world and around the clock.”

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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