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Indian to head US research body

Vijay Vittal has been named director of Power Systems Engineering Research Center, reports Kanupriya Vashisht.

india Updated: Aug 26, 2005 21:54 IST

Vijay Vittal, Ira A Fulton Chair at Arizona State University's electrical engineering department, has been named director of the Power Systems Engineering Research Center (PSERC), a prestigious collaboration of 13 universities dedicated to America's power systems research.

Launched nine years ago, PSERC operates on a research budget of $2.4 million, and is the largest collaboration funded by the National Science Foundation's Industry/University Cooperative Research Center initiative. Universities like Howard, Berkley, Cornell, and Carnegie Mellon are part of this energy consortium that addresses the challenges in America's electric power industry.

The center conducts research in three important areas related to Energy - Power Systems, Transmission and Distribution, and Markets.

Vittal, who is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, takes over from Bob Thomas of Cornell University, who stepped down after nine years as PSERC director. The shift in directorship makes ASU the lead school in the organization.

"This is very exciting for ASU," Vittal says. "Energy independence and sustainability are key issues for the future. More than anything, reliability of the electric supply is a critical component of the economic competitiveness of the nation. To be the lead university in this group gives us national and international exposure," he adds.

As director, Vittal will now set future direction and provide leadership in terms of seeking new sources of funding and growing the center.

PSERC provides a forum where researchers from leading universities can come together and tackle problems with combined resources. The organisation strives to improve strategies, technologies, analytical tools, operating practices and public policy to produce and deliver power safely and reliably.

An example of the fruitful cooperation between members of PSERC is the ongoing investigation into the massive 2003 electrical blackout on the East Coast. As part of a joint US-Canada task force, PSERC discovered that overgrown trees around power lines were an underlying factor in the blackout's severity. To mitigate that danger, PSERC researchers are using satellite imagery to monitor and predict tree growth.

"In today's society, the dependence on electricity is enormous," Vittal says. "It is essential to maintain several other infrastructure systems, such as water and sewage treatment and food transportation."

Born and brought up in the Silicon Valley of India, Vittal is a PhD in electrical engineering from Iowa State University where he has also served as an Anston Marston Distinguished Professor. This former Kanpur IITian has had a distinguished career as a former Murray and Ruth Harpole Professor and site director of the National Science Foundation IUCRC Power System Engineering Research Center. In addition, he has served as the program director for power systems for the National Science Foundation Division of Electrical and Communication Systems in Washington, DC.

First Published: Aug 26, 2005 20:55 IST