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Andrea Frank
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John G. Kassakian
Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Director of the Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems

What are you working on?

My field is power electronics, which is the use of electronics to control electric energy. The contexts are pretty varied. Two of the biggest are electric energy storage and transportation. We’ve had a very large program in automotive electronics and electrical systems where we have proposed, and have had accepted, a new 42 volt standard for voltage in cars. This was a very signifi cant accomplishment because it’s hard to get the auto industry to agree on something that radical. Unfortunately, the implementation has been signifi cantly delayed because of the auto industry’s economic problems at the moment, especially in the U.S.

But there are two other research programs that I think are very significant. One is the development of what we call a nanotube-based ultracapacitor. This is a device that functions like a battery, but is fundamentally different in that there is no electrochemical process that involves mass transport. It is strictly the storage of ions like you have in a capacitor. If we are successful, this device could replace batteries in all sorts of
applications, with a much higher energy density, a much higher power density and, essentially, infinite life. Hopefully, it will be at a cost that is reasonable.

What are some of the applications for this ultracapacitor?

Any place where you use a battery ––hybrid cars, for example. Your camera probably uses a lithium ion battery. If, instead, you had an ultracapacitor that had the same energy density, you’d be able to charge it in about three minutes rather than half an hour or an hour.

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Andrea Frank