For Harish Krishnamoorthy, assistant professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the Cullen College of Engineering and associate director of the Power Electronics, Microgrids & Subsea Electrical Systems Center (PESMEC), it's unlikely that he'll forget the date of June 7 any time soon.
On that day, not only did he earn an NSF CAREER award for his research on power conversion, but he was also notified that he was the inaugural winner of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power Electronic Society (PELS) Young Exceptional Service Award.
“On June 7, right at 9:10 a.m., I got the NSF CAREER grant letter,” he said, adding that it was while he was getting ready for work. Then, on the drive to campus, he received a call from his colleague, Kaushik Rajashekara, a Distinguished Professor of Engineering and the director of PEMSEC.
“He called and congratulated me, and I thought he meant for the CAREER award,” Krishnamoorthy said, laughing. “But it was actually for the IEEE award. Both of these came in with exactly an hour's difference on June 7.”
Krishnamoorthy called it a “very surprising” and “very happy” start to his day, to receive both of those honors within such quick succession.
“I have been pretty active with IEEE, starting with my graduate studies,” he said. “The IEEE has been in my life for the last 12 years, and very specifically, the Power Electronics Society. It is the major society targeting my research area, which is power electronics, and the members of the society are very active.”
Krishnamoorthy said their journals are among the most popular among the different IEEE groups. He currently serves as an associate editor for IEEE Transactions on Power Electronics. The IEEE is the major organization for electrical and electronics engineers, with more than 427,000 members in more than 190 countries. Krishnamoorthy’s association began when he was a doctoral student at Texas A&M, and he was a member of the student branch chapter (SBC).
“We organized several activities through the SBC and the year that I was the secretary, the Texas A&M chapter won a best chapter award,” he said. “The association with IEEE more or less began that way, and since then, I have been in multiple roles of both leadership as well as supporting in the IEEE over the years.”
After earning his bachelor's degree, Krishnamoorthy worked in industry for several years at well-known firms – Schlumberger, Google, Ford and General Electric. However, he always had an interest in research, and he earned his doctorate from Texas A&M in 2015.
He said his motivation started because his advisor, Prasad Enjeti, Professor and Texas Instruments Jack Kilby Chair Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering, encouraged students to pursue opportunities outside of the lab and the classroom.
“Typically with graduate students, not many advisors allow the students to spend time that easily,” Krishnamoorthy said. “You're doing the Ph.D. work and working on research projects, but he was gracious to allow me time to spend on some of these related activities. He's a very active member IEEE member himself.”
Krishnamoorthy strongly encourages his students to get involved in the various societies available to them, whether it’s the IEEE, the Society of Petroleum Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, or other organizations. He noted that networking opportunities and exposure to different lines of research can be vital in making a connection for a job or expanding their thoughts.
Krishnamoorthy identified three past presidents of PELS as positively influencing his networking and IEEE volunteering with PELS – Frede Blaabjerg, a professor of the Faculty of Engineering and Science at Aalborg University in Denmark; Alan Mantooth, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Arkansas; and the immediate past president, Liuchen Chang, a professor emeritus in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. He said that he also has a good relationship with the current PELS president, Brad Lehman, a professor at Northeastern University.
Going forward, Krishnamoorthy will continue his work in the field of power conversion. His NSF CAREER award is for $500,015. He offered advice for his colleagues that are in the process of submitting their own proposals.
“The NSF CAREER Award is considered one of the most, if not the most, important research grants for early-career faculty members, and you get three attempts to apply for it. The presidents, deans and department chairs across universities, all of them value it highly and emphasize the same, and it does put a lot of pressure on many assistant professors to get this award. I have three pieces of advice for tenure-track faculty from my experience.
Unless there is a disruptive/transformational new idea, do not rush to apply for the NSF CAREER in the very first year of tenure-track. It is better to assemble your thoughts for a year-and-a-half and take the first attempt in the second year.
Secondly, try to get into a relevant NSF review panel. It is important to know the pulse of the reviewers and the though-process of the broader research community as to what they consider an important problem to tackle.
Third and finally, in engineering and some other disciplines, the typical acceptance percentage for the NSF CAREER Award can be between 15 percent to 20 percent each year. Then said, every researcher has up to three attempts during the tenure track period. If we assume an average 17.5 percent acceptance rate, the cumulative chance that someone would win the NSF CAREER Award at least in the third attempt is above 40 percent, and closer to 43.8 percent. Hence, it is important to not get discouraged if getting rejected in the first attempt.”
The award will allow Krishnamoorthy to expand his research and hire more graduate students.
“Especially with renewables and electric vehicles and other technologies, it is expected that well over 80 percent of the electrons that are produced will flow through some form of power electronics by the year 2030, and it now like looks like it will be even higher,” he said.
“With that said, the problem is that once you have too many of these electronic switches and devices, the reliability can take a big hit. Reliability and resiliency have become a very important field of research, and I'm working on that and focusing on devices like converters based on gallium nitrate and silicon carbide-based power electronics switches.”
Krishnamoorthy said that new machine learning-based techniques will help to test the durability of conversion devices and improve maintenance efforts before a more serious failure happens.
“We are trying to see how much and how well we can predict the life of power electronics under different stress factors like temperature, humidity, voltage, and things like that,” he said. “When something is about to fail, we can actually take such systems offline and then put new ones or perform educated pre-emptive maintenance.”