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Students and Faculty from CURENT Visit China

January 16th, 2014

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During the 2013 winter break, most University of Tennessee students were headed home for the holidays. A handful of future electrical engineers had other plans, though. UT undergraduates Jessica Boles, Summer Church, Lily Hoang, and Matt Lambert joined Ph.D. student Micah Till and faculty members, Dr. Chien-fei Chen and Dr. Daniel Costinett from The Center for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT) in UT, Knoxville’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science to embark on a visit to three cities in China. The trip was organized so that students could meet with Chinese universities focusing on the study of electric power.  These universities, Tsinghua University, North China Electric Power University (NCEPU) and South East University (SEU), welcomed the CURENT students and faculty as the first such group from the United States to visit their campuses.

The group set out on a 12-day trip soon after UT’s final exams finished and quickly immersed themselves in power and energy research laboratories, power utility companies and Chinese culture.  CURENT offered this trip as part of its mission to expose students to global perspectives of engineering and to provide students the opportunity for cultural exchange, according to Chen, the center’s co-director of education and diversity programs. 

The expedition began in China’s capital city, Beijing, with a visit to Tsinghua University. While at Tsinghua, the CURENT visitors were given a tour, led by local students and faculty, of the laboratories for power electronics and power systems.  The group was also able to meet with the associate head of electrical engineering, Dr. Xin Jie Yu and 10 graduate and undergraduate students to discuss and compare the course structure, student life and research philosophy to those of UT, Knoxville. In addition, Dr. Zhengming Zhao’s research group gave a presentation covering their research directions and focus in power electronics, with particular emphasis on future applications of photovoltaics and electric vehicles.

One of the CURENT students, freshman Summer Church, was able to exchange research ideas with students from Tsinghua.

“I met a student at Tsinghua who was working on a ‘Smart Building’ project, the same type of research I have assisted with at UTK,” said Church, a freshman in electrical engineering. “It was exciting to see how universities are aspiring to reach identical goals within engineering, even on the other side of the world.”

The group next visited NCEPU, an institution whose curriculum and research focuses heavily on the areas of power systems, power electronics and renewable energy technologies, which align with CURENT’s research focus. The CURENT group toured NCEPU’s State Key Laboratory of Alternative Electrical Power Systems with Renewable Energy Sources. One of the highlights was the intercultural communication between Chinese and U.S. students.

“Conversations with students about everyday subjects such as leisure activities, research, travel, religion, and politics not only fostered intercultural friendships but also gave us a keen insight into Chinese life both inside and outside of the academic setting," said Jessica Boles, a junior in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

The last academic visit was to Southeast University in Nanjing. The visit was hosted by university vice president Dr. Hu Minqian and associate head Dr. Xiaobou Dou of the Department of Electrical Engineering.  The CURENT group was introduced to a variety of power systems and power electronic research laboratories. CURENT’s students were also able to engage in further cultural exchange by spending significant time with the SEU professors and their students.

During the group’s trek through China, Dr. Daniel Costinett, assistant professor from CURENT, gave a presentation to faculty and students at each of the three universities.  The seminars covered the wide range of applications in power systems and electronics that CURENT investigates. Dr. Costinett also highlighted his research topics, including the design of electric vehicle technologies and high efficiency power supplies.

Besides the academic visits, the group also visited the largest utility provider in China, State Grid Corporation in Beijing, and the Jiangsu Electric Power Company in Nanjing, which provides power to many of the 78 million people in the Jiangsu Province.  The CURENT group was able to visualize the real time power grid operation and learn about current development of power grid projects in China. The group also visited the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City in Beijing, and experienced the beautiful Chinese Yu Garden and the Lujiazui District Skyline in Shanghai.

Overall, CURENT students were impressed by these universities’ facilities, research scopes, and the Chinese government’s commitment to solving engineering challenges. CURENT-Logo_Transparent-tiny.png