PNNL Tag

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

The United States power grid is connected by more than 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines to provide electricity to more than 300 million people. But as the saying goes, with great power, comes great responsibility.

Yousu Chen – PNNL

With the increase of renewable energy sources, the growth of the increasingly complex system and increases in terrorist threats, engineers have to come up with new methods to protect the power grid.

Yousu Chen (WSU Tri-Cities MS, environmental engineering), staff research engineer at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is using high-performance computing techniques to safeguard the electrical grid against potential threats and outages.

“The power grid is the largest man-made machine in the world,” he said. “It is the most important infrastructure, and we need it daily for almost all of our daily activities. I’m always eager to know what I can do in this fast-growing area to solve new problems.”

During his time as a student at WSU Tri-Cities, Chen got his first internship at PNNL. He also learned skills in simulation and modeling that have proven invaluable to his career.

He has been involved in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, increasing opportunities for current students.

Solving problems before they happen

Chen‘s work focuses primarily on modern computing techniques that both simulate potential hazards and provide ways for monitoring information within the grid. Through the advancement of high-performing computing techniques, he and his team at PNNL are developing simulations to predict and combat problems before they occur.

Chen’s computing systems utilize complex algorithms to measure power flow, identify potential problem areas, simulate possible outcomes if there were to be an outage or a catastrophic event, as well as provide solutions in how to deal with those potential problem areas.Power pole

“For example, if we want to evaluate the impact of newer smart grid technologies on the power grid, we use our simulation techniques to prepare for the event before we apply those new technologies to the grid,” he said. “Using our simulation, we could determine how that issue would impact the grid, and as a result, how we can prevent that from occurring.”

Chen said he and his team are always developing newer computing techniques to run simulations at a faster rate, which will be crucial in the event of a major outage or disruption.

“Some systems will take minutes, depending on the system, to run a limited number of contingencies,” he said. “My code is able to run 1 million contingencies in less than 30 seconds. That is a major achievement.”

With all of the data generated through advanced computing methods, Chen and his team are also always looking take the massive data caches and efficiently turn them into something usable and visual.

“Because high-performance computing systems can create a lot of data, it is challenging to digest that data in the short-term,” he said. “We develop advanced visualization tools, which allow us to view that data in real time and provide a quick response for potential events.”

Giving back to the future of engineering

Even though Chen has achieved much in his career as an engineer, he has used his position to increase opportunities for disseminating knowledge of his field into the community, as well as create pathways for other students to follow in his footsteps.

Chen realized early in his higher education career just how valuable mentorship and extracurricular learning experiences could be to his own growth as an engineer. In addition to utilizing university resources to connect him with an internship at PNNL, he also sought advice for how to improve his resume, his interview skills and more through the university’s career development center. After landing a full-time position of his own at PNNL, he wanted to keep paying forward what he learned, using his connections in engineering and computer science to provide resources and mentoring to aspiring engineering students.

Chen has since volunteered his time through a variety of capacities for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He serves as chair for the IEEE’s distinguished lecture program and formerly served as the regional representative of the IEEE Power & Energy Society and the regional chair for the IEEE Power Energy Society’s scholarship plus program. He also serves as the editor for two professional journals where he helps edit and review articles for publication pertaining to the smart grid.

As a result of his efforts, Chen was recently awarded the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Leadership Award for the contributions he has made to IEEE activities and the leadership he’s displayed through IEEE at the local, regional and national levels. In a congratulatory letter, Wai-Choong Wong, vice president of the member and geographic activities at IEEE, stated that Chen has set a great example in carrying forward the goals and objectives of the IEEE MGA board.

Chen said he is grateful for all he learned in his education at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as what he has been able to accomplish since then by means of his work at PNNL, as well as through his involvement with the IEEE.

“These opportunities changed my life,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to accomplish a lot in my career as an engineer and I believe it is my responsibility to not only increase the capabilities of the power grid, but to also increase the potential for the world’s future engineers who will solve many of these energy-related problems.”

By Maegan Murray

Before the age of 20, Gordan Gavric was already working on technology that continues to change the world of security.

Gavric started as an electrical engineering intern at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in the High School Student Research Internship program the summer of his high school junior year working for the Atom Probe group in (define EMSL). Now a junior at Washington State University Tri-Cities, Gavric has transitioned into working in 30784625972_0822818cec_zthe Engineering Development Lab at PNNL, where he works with the creators of the millimeter wave imaging technologies used in body scanners that are deployed in airports across the world.
“It’s been pretty amazing,” Gavric said. “How many other interns get to work on this stuff? I started with PNNL my freshman year and I’ve been with them ever since. I’ve done everything from Python language programming, to circuit development, to building up and testing antennas using some very expensive, very cool pieces of hardware.”

The opportunities he was presented with through PNNL were the primary reason why he chose to attend Washington State University Tri-Cities.

“I think it was probably the best thing I could have done in terms of school and work,” he said. “I was interested in another university because their electrical engineering program was more based in radio and signal processing. But since then, I’ve taken classes here that are more oriented toward digital signal processing. I’ve received one of the best educations because I’m learning from the people that are actually doing it and they do it well.”

30599606060_48bf9994ca_zThrough his current position at PNNL, Gavric is using Python to develop a software application for nuclear security. He developed what is called a graphical user interface, or a GUI, that allows engineers to tweak parameters in real-time to better set instruments to protect a nuclear source. He is also working with millimeter wave antennas that are used in airport and security body scanners.

“Seeing some of crazy concepts behind it and the engineering required to develop that technology and the creativity that was facilitated has been incredible,” he said. “It was not like we were just designing circuits. You got the sense that you could be really creative in the way you solve the big problems in the world with engineering. It has been amazing to see that type of things being done right here in Richland.”

Gavric said his position uniquely allows him to be exposed to engineering concepts and materials first at PNNL, which he then learns about in detail at WSU Tri-Cities.

“Last summer, I was tasked with building a resonant filter and I spent close to two days figuring out everything I could about it at PNNL,” he said. “Then today, in electronics class, we talked about a similar design and learned how to apply it a little differently. I get to first see it applied and then learn more about it. It definitely enriches me because I’m exposed in a real-world experience and then I dive into the details of it in class.”

Gavric said the combination of his WSU Tri-Cities education and his real-world experience at PNNL has poised him with unique experiences that he will continue to use throughout his career in engineering.

“I like that everything correlates really well,” he said. “Everything I learn in class, I see at my job. My teammates at PNNL are like, ‘Have you learned about x? Oh, you learned it last week, OK cool.’ It helps me bond with them.”30268543804_0d4bd8094a_z

Gavric said he has also applied his experience at PNNL and what he is learning in the classroom at WSU Tri-Cities for external projects and leadership opportunities at the university. He and a couple of classmates started the robotics club on campus. He also is the chief justice for the Associated Students of Washington State University where he oversees the student government’s bylaws and judicial procedure.

“One of my favorite things about WSU and PNNL are the opportunities you are presented with,” he said. “WSU Tri-Cities is one of those places where if you have a will to do something, like starting an engineering club, you can. You can make the most out of anything. At PNNL, I’ve been provided with opportunities to advance in my career, like learning new engineering concepts and furthering my skillset.”

Plus, three of the five people on his team at PNNL either taught at or attended WSU Tri-Cities.

“I’m surrounded by fellow alumni,” he said. “It’s been pretty great.”

Interested in a career in electrical engineering? Visit https://tricities.wsu.edu/engineering/.

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

elmar-villota
Elmar Villota

RICHLAND, Wash. – In Elmar Villota’s home country of the Philippines, as much as 15 percent of households do not have electricity. Villota, a doctoral student in biological systems engineering at Washington State University Tri-Cities, is motivated to close that gap with renewable energy.

“A simple light bulb could make a world of difference,” he said. “Without a sustainable source of electricity, students can’t have light or read comfortably at night. Imagine how much knowledge they would miss.”

elmar-villota-left-educates-filipino-residents-web
Elmar Villota, left, educates
Filipino residents on basic
maintenance and
troubleshooting for an
energy device.

With a population of more than 100 million scattered across more than 7,100 islands, the Philippines faces the challenge of extending power to everyone, he said.

“In the Philippines, we are end users in terms of technology,” Villota said. “Historically, we have purchased technology rather than making or innovating it ourselves for our own use.”

Renewable energy, he added, could help address the nation’s sustainable energy concerns and stimulate technological growth.

Turning biomass into fuel, other products

As part of the Engineering and Research Development for Technology scholarship program, which is offered to all Filipino engineers by the Philippines’ Department of Science and Technology, Villota is working toward his doctorate at WSU Tri-Cities.

elmar-villota-with-residents-web
Elmar Villota with Filipino residents.

He is studying how to convert second-generation biomass, such as agricultural waste or woody crops, to biofuels and other useful products, such as bio-based polymers and chemicals. Working under WSU associate professor Bin Yang, Villota mainly is focused on enzymatic hydrolysis, a process that uses bacteria and fungi to break down plant cell walls to sugar, which is turned into fuel.

Villota has written a book chapter on the subject in cooperation with Yang and Ziyu Dai, a senior scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). He is also working with Rongchun Shen, a visiting scholar from China, on techno-economic assessment regarding methods for converting lignin—structural polymers in plants—into useful, high-value products like bioplastics.

Bioproducts lab, PNNL draw scholar

Villota was attracted to WSU Tri-Cities because of its national reputation for excellence in renewable energy research and its partnership with PNNL, a leading national innovator in the renewable energy sector.

elmar-villota-in-wsu-tri-cities-lab-web
Elmar Villota in a BSEL lab at WSU Tri-Cities.

“WSU is one of the best schools for renewable energy because of the WSU Tri-Cities’ Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory and the university’s relationship with PNNL,” he said. “That is what really encouraged me to go here.”

He also contributes to advancing Filipino renewable energy through his home university, serving as a lecturer at Central Luzon State University. He also is a technical expert in renewable energy for the university’s Affiliated Renewable Energy Center and Phil-Sino Center for Agricultural Technology.

Villota said he is hopeful that thousands of fellow Filipinos will benefit from his work, which could lead to basic electrification and light and even broader impacts.

“Through this experience, I hope to extend students’ learning capabilities, and in turn, extend the potential for them to make a difference in the world,” he said.

 

 

Contacts:

Elmar Villota, WSU Tri-Cities doctoral student, elmar.villota@wsu.edu
Bin Yang, WSU Tri-Cities biological systems engineering, 509-372-7640,binyang@tricity.wsu.edu
Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations, 509-372-7333,maegan.murray@tricity.wsu.edu