Doctoral candidate Anushree Ramanath is fighting the good fight: her research addresses the absence of an analytical basis and standard design procedure for designing a DC-DC converter with integrated magnetics. Her solution? A novel, descriptive approach, an analytical tool, and a hardware prototype that is an efficient, reliable, and cost-effective solution that can be used in residential solar installations. A woman with a myriad interests both academic and otherwise, one rarely sees her standing still. But we did manage to steal a couple of afternoons to talk to her and learn more about her interests, and her journey to Minnesota.
Research Supporting Clean Energy
Anushree’s research interests are diverse yet complementary, spanning across power and renewable energy systems, embedded systems, and data science applications. Passionate about working at the intersection of electrical and computer sciences, she is interested in building robust systems that can tackle uncertainty, the design of complex systems, and communication using signals, systems, and networks that can support the development and spread of renewable energy systems. The latter especially has been a longstanding passion for her.
To facilitate the easy adoption of clean energy practices, it is critical to have cost-effective, efficient, and reliable converters that can integrate renewables with the electric grid. Recognizing problems in the current process to design a DC-DC converter that can yield distortion free currents (critical for better power quality), she has focused her doctoral research efforts in this area.
The integrated magnetics converter that Anushree has designed is integrated with an inverter, a device that converts solar energy to a usable form, yielding an equivalent of a micro-inverter, a compact unit attached directly to each solar module in the power system. Distributing the conversion process across each module in the system makes the entire system more productive, reliable, and smarter than traditional inverter systems.
Anushree’s design holds yet another interesting possibility: the designed integrated magnetics converter can be used alone without the inverter system. This would be specifically applicable to DC smart grids and energy storage applications. Her work also addresses the disparity in the longevity of solar panels and inverters by making the inverter last longer. The latter is accomplished by reducing current distortion at the input, thereby eliminating the need for large input capacitance, and allows for the use of a small capacitor at the output. This reduces overall system cost and the need for frequent maintenance.
Anushree’s research makes a direct contribution to the concept of zero net energy (ZNE) buildings, where total energy used by a building on an annual basis is roughly equal to or less than the amount of renewable energy generated on the site. California’s energy efficiency strategic plan for instance mandates the development of ZNE buildings: all new residential construction by 2020 and commercial construction by 2030. It also aids the push to harness energy from renewable resources, with solar energy from rooftop solar panels contributing up to 40 percent of total electricity sales. It is also in step with five of the 17 global goals laid out by the United Nations for sustainable development: affordable and clean energy; industry, innovation and infrastructure; sustainable cities and communities; climate action; life on land.
While her work gains traction and makes directly applicable contributions, Anushree is also keenly aware of the sustained support she has received that has been instrumental to her success. She credits Prof. Ned Mohan for the encouragement he has provided her beyond his role as a research advisor. As her mentor, he has shown her the ropes of approaching a research problem methodically and creatively, and has shared his own keen interest in renewables.
What Makes Anushree Tick?
Anushree’s motivation to work in her current research areas began early. Her interest in understanding how things worked, her creativity, and logical and analytical abilities led her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering from Visvesvaraya Technological University, in Karnataka, India. Her internships with industry leaders Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, Electronic Relays India Private Limited, and Prok Devices Private Limited gave her experience with fabrication of solid state relays, and assembling with input-output modules, which revealed to her the unique space where electrical engineering meets computer science. The prospect of working in this space was exciting enough for Anushree to dive into honing her skills in C, C++, and Java. In her final year project (the equivalent of the senior design project in ECE) with Bosch Limited, she and her team were entrusted with designing and implementing an efficient rotor for an automotive alternator. As the team lead, Anushree gained leadership and project management skills, while also learning the value of teamwork.
Journey to Minnesota
Bachelor’s degree in hand, Anushree started work as an associate software engineer with Exeter, where she engaged in the complete software development life-cycle: design, development, integration, and testing. A couple of key projects she worked on are OneGate, a product for the US government’s healthcare initiative, and an end-to-end software solution development for long term client Kellogg School of Management.
Anushree however had her sights set on the future. Driven by her enthusiasm for research, she started planning her move to graduate school. Attracted by the reputation and opportunities within the graduate program in electrical engineering, and her keen interest in working with Prof. Ned Mohan, she applied to the University of Minnesota. Prof. Mohan’s expertise in power electronics and renewable energy systems, coincided with Anushree’s own interests, and being a close follower of his work, she discussed the possibility of working in his research group. ECE made an offer and happily for us, Anushree accepted!
Eager to engage in research and contribute to the discipline, Anushree jumped in with both feet. But she was also cautious as to how significantly she could contribute to research, and whether she would enjoy the process. But a year into her program, working with her research group and interning, she was convinced that the doctoral program was indeed for her.
From Theory to Practice
As a doctoral student conducting research in power electronics, Anushree has actively sought out opportunities to engage in industry practices while also contributing to them. She has interned with Eaton Corporation as a research aide appointed by the Argonne National Laboratory’s Energy Systems division. During her time there, she worked on power electronics, smart grid, advanced controls, cloud computing, and IoT projects, and was instrumental in facilitating the setup of Eaton’s energy management circuit breaker using IoT. While at Cummins Inc. as a systems control engineer, Anushree facilitated the setup of their first microgrid hardware-in-the-loop simulator and developed model libraries for some key components. During her second stint with Cummins Inc. as a power electronics and firmware research & technology (R&T) intern, she contributed to the development of a high-power inverter for traction applications. Beyond her strictly engineering responsibilities, she has also engaged in their community-building activities and represented the company at the 2018 SWE (Society for Women in Engineering) Annual Conference.
Awards and Accolades
Anushree has had the opportunity to share her research at several prestigious fora, including the NSF sponsored workshop at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC, IEEE PEDES 2018, IEEE IECON 2018, IEEE PECI 2019 at Illinois (received the best poster award for her doctoral research; her participation was funded by an NSF travel grant award based on an abstract of her research work), Sustainability and Energy Expo 2019 at Minnesota, and several NSF sponsored workshops organized at the University of Minnesota.
In her effort to encourage and support women engineers, she has discussed her research at meetings organized by ACM-W and Girls Who Code. She has also been the recipient of multiple awards at University-wide fora including a team effort win at a Twin Cities hackathon (the largest one, actually) for building a hardware prototype and website called FishInA.net in about 20 hours.
Life Beyond Research
Anushree’s interests do not end with her research. Having benefited from Prof. Mohan’s keen interest in encouraging women to enter the engineering field, she is now passing it on by being a mentor to undergraduate women through groups such as WISE (Women in Science and Engineering), and WIE (IEEE Women in Engineering). She is also a volunteer with SWE and GWC (Girls Who Code). An engaged member of the University community, she is involved in cultural events and groups across campus, and as a lover of the outdoors, she is an avid backpacker and camper when the opportunity presents itself. In the long list of interests and activities Anushree is engaged in, is painting. Never having missed the opportunity to wield a brush, her work has been selected to be displayed at the University’s Arts Quarter Festival to be held in October, on the west bank of the campus. She has also generously shared her time as judge for various undergraduate project showcases and is currently the director of communications and public affairs for the Council of Graduate Students. And she is a certified yoga instructor!
For students interested in pursuing graduate education, Anushree says, “Graduate school demands consistent and sincere effort. But if you are passionate about what you want to study and work towards, everything falls in place.”
She emphasizes the importance of maintaining a good work-life balance for healthy living, building long lasting friendships, learning about different cultures, and pursuing different experiences, while maintaining good academic standing, and research progress.
The Road Ahead
For Anushree, the road ahead is uncharted and exciting. Her enthusiasm for research is unflagging, but she is also deeply aware of the value of knowledge and skills she can acquire in an industry setting. Her hope is to participate in next-generation research in the commercial/industrial realm, and actively seek out opportunities to engage with academia to further research, and encourage a robust and seamless exchange of knowledge.