The University of Minnesota has honored Prof. Ned Mohan with the Regents Professorship. It is the highest honor the University bestows on its faculty and is in recognition of the recipient’s “exceptional contributions to the University through teaching, research, scholarship, or creative work, and contributions to the public good.”
As a faculty member who specializes in energy systems and power electronics, Ned’s work is an embodiment of the University’s key missions: research and education. And he carries out these entwined missions with his eyes set on the future, while being keenly aware of the simultaneous need for access, equality, and social justice. Even as a child, growing up in a small town in central India, Ned came to the conclusion that access to electricity is a basic human right. With more than a billion people lacking access to electricity or reliable power supply, as a specialist in the field, he has dauntlessly fought for access, and improvement of materials and equipment for carbon-free generation.
NED’S RESEARCH IMPACT
His holistic approach to electrical systems has underpinned his research and academic efforts. His keen awareness of the interwoven nature of energy generation, power, control, and access to electricity, has informed much of his pioneering inventions:
- current-shaping circuit in 1978, for supplying power from photovoltaic systems, which was a precursor to the current-shaping circuits in our current day laptops)
- active filters to supply ripple-free electricity (patented by the University in 1979) followed up by researchers around the world and commercialized
- Minnesota Rectifier for charging fleets of electric vehicles and patented by the University in 1994
- Ultra-compact DC-DC converter for aircraft, funded by NASA and patented by the University in 2003
A critical aspect for faculty in research institutions is fundraising to support their research. And Ned has been particularly skillful at raising funds from external entities, both federal and industrial. To date, he has drawn over $20 million dollars in external funding. The University of Minnesota Center for Electrical Energy (UMCEE) started by Ned with his mentor, Prof. Vern Albertson, in 1981 is one of the longest lasting centers here, comprising six regional utilities such as Xcel Energy contributing an average of $130,000 dollars per year since its inception, funding and guiding his research in relevant directions. Hardware labs he developed with the support of NSF funds have been commercialized by Vishay HiRel Systems at their Duluth, MN plant. This had wide-reaching job creation impact in the state, but at no financial interest to Ned himself. The labs have been acquired by 109 U.S. universities and many more abroad. Ned’s research is now mostly funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) that considers his work vital to national security.
Recognizing his wide and deep impact on electrical and computer engineering, several prestigious flagship groups have honored him: in 1996, he was elevated to Fellow of IEEE; in 2010 Ned received the Utility Wind Integration Group’s Achievement Award; in 2012, the IEEE’s Renewable Energy Excellence Award; and in 2014, the IEEE’s FACTS Award. It was in 2014 again that the National Academy of Engineering elected Ned as member “for contributions to the integration of electronics into power systems and innovations in power engineering education.” He is one of only seven active NAE members at the University of Minnesota. Most recently, he received the 2019 IEEE IAS award for “outstanding contributions to education and mentorship of students and young engineers within the fields of interest of the IEEE Industry Applications Society.”
DEDICATION TO EDUCATION
However, Ned is not driven by research alone. He is dedicated to his students and their success, education, pedagogy, and equality and diversity. As a testimony of his success as a teacher, of the 46 doctoral students he has graduated, many are pursuing academic careers in prestigious institutions in the United States and abroad, while others are working in leading companies around the world (Apple, Tesla, and General motors are some of the few); 11 of them are employed locally. His bachelor’s and master’s students are working locally in regional utilities such as Xcel Energy, and his first and his latest doctoral students started companies in the area. Having mentored nearly a hundred and fifty graduate students, Ned’s impact is on a global scale.
Beyond the confines of the University, Ned believes in sharing his knowledge and has given guest lectures, and keynote addresses at conferences and symposia. He was instrumental in the development of 19 graduate level video courses, prepared by experts in the field (7 are NAE members, and 15 are IEEE Fellows), to function as resources to students and practicing engineers. Using an ONR grant, these lectures will be widely accessible to students across the world, which is especially important to those who might not have access to such advanced education. These courses will be disseminated via CUSP (Consortium of Universities for Sustainable Power), an organization created by Ned comprising 450 faculty from 235 universities in the United States. Ned has written five widely used textbooks that have been translated into nine languages and implemented as standard texts in universities in the United States. All five are required texts in five of the department’s senior level and graduate courses.
His teaching philosophy is based on mutual respect. Treating each of his students as his legacy, he works tirelessly with them to ensure they have a clear and deep understanding of the subject matter, to be successful in their career. In “Climate Change: Implementing Solutions,” a course developed and taught by Ned, he has a unique set of challenges. As an introductory course with no prerequisites, it is open to students of all stripes, from freshmen to seniors, from those pursuing performing arts majors to those in STEM majors. Ned has designed the course and prepares for it in ways that ensure that all students who take the course are successful. His students and those who have worked with him closely as his advisees or mentees can attest to the close attention he pays to everyone of them, making sure they are included in all discussions and well prepared for future challenges. In recognition of his deep and unwavering commitment to education and the success of his students, the University has conferred Ned with both teaching awards: the Morse-Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2007, and the Outstanding Contributions to Postbaccalaureate, Graduate, Professional Education Award in 2014. These are the highest teaching awards the University offers. Ned is also the recipient of teaching and education awards conferred by the IEEE (in 2008 and 2010).
Not one to rest on his laurels, or confine teaching to the realms of a classroom, Ned in his drive to share his knowledge and take on challenges such as climate change, and low enrollment numbers in electrical and computer engineering, has donned the role of teacher to the teachers. Through funding support from the NSF, the ONR, and the Department of Energy, he has compiled educational materials for instructors in electrical and computer engineering, and organized over 30 faculty workshops to present the material. More than 100 faculty members, deans, and department heads have attended each of these workshops, raising the profile of our department and improving our national ranking.
IN PURSUIT OF DIVERSITY AND INCLUSIVITY
Outside academic topics, Ned has doggedly pursued diversity and inclusivity, mentoring underrepresented students through an NSF-REU program. Concerned by the lagging numbers of women in ECE, he organized a meeting to address the issue across the college. According to former student and current Intel employee, Dr. Rinkle Jain who is a senior female expert in the industry, the lack of women in the field is stark. She notes that the challenges faced by women in the corporate world are not trivial and the world needs more advocates like Ned “who care to even begin to effect changes.”
Yet another undertaking related to inclusivity that Ned has consistently participated in is reaching out to prospective students and engaging with them on the topic of climate change. His experience has shown that these conversations resonate the most with those who will suffer the consequences of climate change the most: students from minority and low-income communities. Equipping them with the right tools and knowledge to combat and navigate the challenges that loom on the horizon is, according to Ned, the key responsibility of instructors and educational institutions.
Beyond the confines of education, Ned is a keen believer in humility and respect as answers to ideological extremism. As one who practices these principles, and as a board member of the Collegeville Institute’s Multi-Religious Fellows Program, he has been helping young people explore ways to get along while preserving their own diverse faiths. He has carried on this work through the University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute as well as the Institute for Global Studies. Ned has also developed a popular free resource on Hinduism for teachers teaching a year-long course on world history and cultures at many Minnesota high schools.
NEVER ONE TO SLOW DOWN
Ned’s engagement and commitment to diverse responsibilities and issues have not slowed him down. On the contrary, he seems to be working at a pace that outstrips others in the department. He currently leads a research group of eight doctoral students and three postdoctoral research associates. Since 2013, he has graduated 14 doctoral students, a number that is four times the department’s average. During that time, he has also received four major awards, and published 23 journal papers, and 61 conference proceedings. In 2018 alone, he drew in over $1.3 million in external funding, four times the departmental average. His h-index, a critical scholarly metric that measures the “productivity and citation impact of the publications of a scientist or scholar” is 61, with over 30,000 citations. His citation record is one of the best in the department, and he is currently working on his sixth textbook with his postdoc, Dr. Siddharth Raju, on vector control in electric drives, to be published by Wiley.
Most recently, Ned was invited to testify by the Minnesota House Committee on Energy and Climate. Subsequently, Representative Jamie Long proposed legislation to make electricity in Minnesota carbon-free by 2050, which was endorsed by Gov. Tim Walz.
Prof. Ned Mohan is clearly in the vanguard of research in a critical and frontline field. A dedicated teacher who leads by example, and a respectful and humble participant in issues of diversity, inclusivity, and tolerance, he is the embodiment of a world citizen: one who has impacted the lives of many in direct and indirect ways at many levels, through his research, his teaching and mentoring, and his engagement in promoting peace and understanding across borders of language, faith, and culture. The Regents Professorship is the latest in a steady string of prestigious awards and honors that he has received, commending the depth, and breadth of his research and academic commitment, and the generosity with which he shares his knowledge.
Ned earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1967 from the Indian Institute of Technology. He then earned his master’s degree in 1969 at the University of New Brunswick, Canada. Keen on pursuing a doctoral degree, he worked under the guidance of Prof. Harold A. Peterson, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He earned his PhD in electrical power systems in 1973, and along the way his interests led him to acquire a master’s degree in nuclear engineering in 1972 (also from UW- Madison). Ned and his wife Mary have two grown-up children.