Innovator of the Year 2013

Once again we have received a number of high quality applications for the award of ‘Innovator of the Year’. The decision was particularly difficult this year, but ultimately there can be only one winner, namely Wenping Cao, together with Bing Ji and Volker Pickert, for their submission entitled “Intelligent Gate Drive Design for High-Reliability Power Electronic Devices”.

Power devices are a critical aspect of modern technology. These devices are typically used to control electrical power delivery (voltage and current) to modern electronic and electrical units. The device itself is in effect a special type of electronic switch – a transistor – that is capable of handling the substantial electrical power levels required by many modern units. Typically these power devices are in turn controlled by an electronic circuit called a ‘gate drive’. Existing gate drive units are effective in providing on/off functions that switch the power device to provide the control, but are unable to provide fault detection and prognostic functions for the power device – in short, they do not ‘know’ if the power device has failed. Without such protection, the power control is vulnerable for safety-critical applications such as aerospace and electric vehicles, since traditional power electronic devices are prone to failure. Wenping and co-workers have thus developed a new invention to incorporate a smart condition monitoring circuit into the gate drive unit of the power switch, and to measure the failure precursor parameters in situ for reasoning, life consumption prediction, and decision making. They name it the “Intelligent Gate Drive”, and is the world’s first of its kind in power electronics and has started to show significant impacts on the research and practice community as well as potential economic benefits.

Their innovation will have profound impact over the next 10-50 years in the power electronics industry. Academics, designers, and engineers can directly benefit by gaining a better understanding of failure mechanisms of electronic devices, enabling them to develop new materials, new devices, new topologies, new designs and new manufacturing techniques. The UK’s electronics manufacturers will gain competitive advantages by validating their product models generated by numerical, analytical and empirical methods and reducing their research and development risks. Ultimately, because the majority of electricity used in industry is controlled by power electronic switches, improvements in their reliability and efficiency will reduce maintenance costs and energy demand.

So congratulations Wenping, Bing and Volker – an excellent example of innovative thinking. We’ll be offering the prize again next year, so everyone please keep innovating!


About stevehomans

Professor Steve Homans is a structural biologist with an international reputation in the study of biomolecular interactions. He obtained his first degree and DPhil in Biochemistry at Oxford University, and secured his first academic position as Lecturer at the University of Dundee. In 1998 he received the Zeneca award from the Biochemical Society and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Prior to his current appointment he was Dean of the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds. Professor Homans brings extensive expertise of academic leadership and management, with a particular emphasis on organisational change.
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