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CURENT, Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks, is a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center that is jointly supported by NSF (National Science Foundation) and the DoE (Department of Energy). A collaboration between academia, industry, and national laboratories, CURENT is led by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Partner institutions include:

CURENT's Vision

  • A nation-wide or continent-wide transmission grid that is fully monitored and dynamically controlled in real-time for high efficiency, high reliability, low cost, better accommodation of renewable energy sources, full utilization of energy storage, and accommodation of responsive load.

  • A new generation of electric power and energy systems engineering leaders with global perspectives and diverse backgrounds.

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Micah Till writes about his internship and adventure in Switzerland


Chocolate, Cheese and the Alps

by Micah Till, March 2015

Before this past fall, if you had asked me what comes to mind when someone says “Switzerland,” I would have said chocolate, cheese, and the Alps. While I still think of those things, I think of much more as well.

In August I said goodbye to Tennessee and got on a plane in Chattanooga. About 12 hours later I landed in Zurich and was faced with deciphering the SSB ticket system. While I knew enough High German to ask directions and buy staple foods, I knew almost no Swiss German (comparing the two “Germans” feels like comparing Spanish and Italian). Now I can recite the zones needed to get almost anywhere from Baden, Switzerland by heart, but that day I made an unfortunate attendant spend almost ten minutes explaining the system. However, she ended up selling me a Gleis 7 card so I feel both of us went away happy with the outcome.

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View from Niederhorn

When I first arrived at ABB’s research center in Baden-Dättwil, I did not know what to expect. It was my fifth day in Switzerland. I had secured my apartment, food and a new bank account, but my broken High German was strained to the limit and I could not even say “hello” correctly in Swiss German yet. Thankfully, the research center uses English as the official language. It soon became clear that for the engineers and programmers from all over the world, English is the only common language whether the company choses to recognize it as such or not. The sixteen interns in my department represented ten countries. The full-time employees double that number.

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Micah Till (1st on left) and the ABB Fall 2014 interns

Both the Automation Department as a whole and the more focused Utilities Solutions Group work on a wide array of projects so, in addition to coming from different cultural and different culinary backgrounds, we are all specialized in completely different areas of electrical and computer engineering. I worked on several projects, but my main task was the creation of synchrophasor data and latency visualization tools. Before my arrival, my supervisor used the command line to debug the PMU tools he develops. To keep track of several hundred data streams, he would write everything out to a text file and import the data into MATLAB for graphing. Doing this required waiting until the run was complete so I was given the job of creating a real-time interface using JavaScript and PHP that could be displayed using any popular browser.

The main problem going into the project was obvious - this was my first experience with JavaScript. As it turned out, one of the computer science students interning with the department needed to simulate a 500-kV transformer for part of her project so we worked each other through some of the sticky points. (Apparently, the simple symbols we EEs use on everything can seem cryptic to someone who never took Circuits I.) With her help and the frequent use of Google, I learned quite a bit about designing web pages over those four months. Add in my crash course on PHP, a refresher on C++ structures and a reading of the SQLite documentation, and I was happy to take a break from the voltage stability calculations assigned to me from time to time. I am sure that optimization opportunities will present themselves to anyone making future modifications to my code, but the end result was a functional tool for real-time data viewing that fit the design requirements.

After work I would return to my studio in Baden or take the train to Zurich. Sometimes in the evenings all the interns from our group would get together for dinner or to explore Switzerland. On the weekends we would visit attractions like Europa Park, Christmas markets, or the Frey Chocolate Factory. At other times we might gather for fondue or hiking.

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Micah in front of the Lion of Lucerne

At least every other weekend, I got up before the trains were crowded and went hiking in the Alps. Contrary to my perception of them beforehand, they are not constantly covered in snow – in fact there was only snow on the ground the last month I was there. My Gleis 7 allowed me to ride back home for free after 7:00 p.m. and I took full advantage of it. Almost any weekend I did not visit an Alp, I could be found exploring cities such as Geneva or Bern. Quite a few people felt the need to tell me where “the most beautiful place on earth” could be found, but since everyone told me somewhere different, I found it hard to believe they could all be right. One friend though, told me a story of an Irish monk, St. Beatus, who ventured into a mountain cave and defeated a dragon to convince the people living nearby to convert to Christianity. The town of Beatenberg is named after him and the monastery he built at the cave is open to visitors – oh, and by the way, it’s the most beautiful place on earth. Stories like this, full of history and character, are what I loved about exploring Switzerland.

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View from St. Beatus Hohlen

So what comes to mind when someone says “Switzerland?” Still chocolate, cheese and the Alps, but also hardworking men and women who prize efficiency, value life and hold a rich history.

 
Bio: Micah Till is a PhD candidate under Dr. Yilu Liu. Although he calls Chattanooga, Tennessee his home town, he was originally born in Knoxville. His interest in EECS, in general, and power systems, specifically, appears to be a hereditary condition.
 

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