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K-State Today

October 18, 2012

Charged for the future: New Burns & McDonnell Smart Grid Lab enhances education and research, boosts recruitment efforts of future engineers

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

The newest laboratory at Kansas State University's department of electrical and computer engineering will not only amp up already strong academic and research programs in electrical power and communications, but it also will help provide a surge in the university's -- and state of Kansas' -- goal of providing more engineers.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony and dedication for the new Burns & McDonnell Smart Grid Lab will be 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the lab in 2095 Rathbone Hall. The event is free and the public is welcome.

Along with John English, dean of the College of Engineering; Don Gruenbacher, head of the department of electrical and computer engineering; and department faculty and staff, a group from Burns & McDonnell, the international, engineering, architecture and consulting company based in Kansas City, Mo., will be on hand. The group will be led by Randy Pope, vice president of the company. Pope is a Kansas State University engineering alumnus and a member of the College of Engineering Advisory Council.

Noel Schulz, the College of Engineering's associate dean for research and director of the Engineering Experiment Station, also will participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Schulz will be the lab's director and it will be home to her research in smart grid technologies, power systems, energy conversion, application of computer programs to power engineering, application of intelligent systems to engineering problems and more.

Gruenbacher said the lab was made possible through a donation from Burns & McDonnell and from the company's many employees who are Kansas State University alumni. In addition, several companies in the power industry have or are in the process of making vital equipment and furnishing donations to the lab.

"Burns & McDonnell approached us about three years ago, seeking a way they could support an engineering college from which they like to hire employees," Gruenbacher said. "As the company has done at other engineering schools, they asked what we needed."

After meeting with the company, it was decided a smart grid laboratory would be beneficial. Students and faculty at the college visited the new Advanced Smart Grid Lab at Burns & McDonnell and worked to develop a similar laboratory at the university for education, research and outreach.

Schulz, who is the LeRoy C. and Aileen Paslay professor of electrical and computer engineering and the university's first lady, has played a major role in facilitating the lab, Gruenbacher said. Schulz is director of the university's Electrical Power Affiliates Program -- of which Burns & McDonnell is a founding member. The program is an industrial consortium of companies in the electric power field.

In addition, Schulz is president of the IEEE Power and Energy Society, a worldwide nonprofit association, and works with electric utilities and power equipment manufacturers.

"Noel was instrumental in getting equipment donations," Gruenbacher said. "Having the support of Burns & McDonnell really helped bring in other donations."

The new lab provides important advantages, Gruenbacher said, and is a step in helping the university meet its goal of becoming a Top 50 public research university by 2025.

"It's kind of unique for us. It allows us the space to tie in both the power and electric communications aspects of our program into one common theme for both our undergraduate and graduate students," he said. "It's a huge opportunity for additional research for our department, too."

But the lab won't be used just for research. Gruenbacher said different class levels -- from freshmen to graduate students -- will be exposed to it. Junior and senior classes will especially use it for lab work.

Another important use of the Burns & McDonnell Smart Grid Lab will be in student recruitment, Gruenbacher said.

"We plan to have high school students -- from freshmen to seniors -- tour this lab so they can see the tremendous opportunities available to them in this field of engineering. This lab really is an important piece in meeting the state's Engineering Initiative Act to increase the number of engineering graduates from Kansas State University and other engineering schools in the state."