Tennessee Tech's Chowdhuri named IEEE Fellow for his contributions to electric power research

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has named Pritindra Chowdhuri a Fellow in the Institute, a distinction given to less than one in one thousand members each year.

Chowdhuri, an electrical and computer engineering professor and researcher with the Center for Electric Power at Tennessee Technological University, was elected to the highest grade of membership by the society's board of directors following a rigorous evaluation procedure. In announcing the honor, IEEE President James Cain cited Chowdhuri's "contributions to the analysis of lightning-caused transients in power systems and to the understanding of transient-voltage withstand capability of power semiconductor devices."

At Tennessee Tech, Chowdhuri has directed ongoing research projects in these and associated areas in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, TVA, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Electric Power Research Institute and other significant sponsors. The majority of his research focuses on the natural energy of thunderstorms and lightning Q a phenomenon that has fascinated Chowdhuri since childhood.

"When I was a child, my father owned an ancestral home in the countryside outside of Calcutta in India," Chowduri says. "It was isolated, and a river ran nearby. During the monsoon season when a lot of thunderstorms occurred, we would sit on the veranda and watch lightning blazing across the sky. It was something that has remained with me ever since."

As anyone who has lost a television set to lightning knows, the electromagnetic power of thunderstorms has very real economic consequences. An estimated $100 million is lost each year in equipment and human activity dependent upon it due to transient voltage that occurs in connection with lightning. Hardest hit are power apparatus, including transmission lines, utility towers and multimillion dollar transformers and circuit breakers. These and the delicate electronic equipment that depends on them -- home computers and electronics, for instance -- can be destroyed literally in nanoseconds by lightning-caused power surges. Developing and testing methods that engineers can use to better protect equipment is a prime motivator of Chowduri's research. Better understanding of the complex statistical phenomena of lightning is his goal.

"Dr. Chowdhuri has demonstrated by example what a dedicated researcher can achieve even with limited resources," says P.K. Rajan, chairperson of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Tennessee Tech. "For instance, he built his lightning research lab from scratch, and today it supports important work while enhancing the education our students receive.

"His superior accomplishments have inspired his students and colleagues to higher levels of performance. By his service and research contributions, he has spread the university's name among the electrical power engineering community. I admire him very much."

Prior to joining Tennessee Tech in 1986, Chowdhuri worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory on programs related to superconducting power transmission lines, magnetic energy storage and magnetic fusion. As a research and development engineer with General Electric, he contributed to projects in areas of high voltage electric transients, electromagnetic compatibility and applications of power electronics systems. During several years with the Research Commission on High Voltage Problems and the Maschinenfabrik Oerlikon, both in Switzerland, he concentrated on solving problems associated with high voltage power delivery.

Chowdhuri holds a doctorate in engineering science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and, in addition to his new status with IEEE, he is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the New York Academy of Sciences and the England-based Institute of Electrical Engineers. He has published 47 papers on issues connected with power engineering and holds four patents.