If you are interested in joining our research group as an undergraduate researcher, graduate student, or post-doc, you’ll find some useful information here. If you have already discovered how awesome power electronics is, and know that it is the field you want to pursue, you can skip straight to the bottom of this page for more information.
Why Power Electronics?
While people pursue a career in power electronics for many reasons, below I will highlight what motivates me to teach and do research in this area.
Exciting applications with high societal impact
One of the most exciting things about power electronics is the countless applications that require efficient electric power conversion. Any device that is powered by electricity (be it a computer, a medical implant, or a modern cruise ship) requires power management, so there is no shortage of potential applications to work on. Power conversions from ac-dc, dc-ac, and dc-dc happen all around us, and modern society would not function without it. In particular, two recent megatrends in society – renewable energy and electric vehicles – are made possible through power electronics. In my own case, renewable energy was what attracted me to power electronics. While you can study material science to learn how to make solar cells, or mechanical engineering to learn how to design wind turbines, a career in power electronics enables you to work on any of these technologies, as well as future potential energy sources (fusion, wave energy, geothermal, etc.). Since energy is the most valuable to society in electric form, the engineers that know how to efficiently interface electric sources (e.g, photovoltaic systems, wind generators, batteries, power plants) and loads (e.g., electric vehicles, datacenters, motors) are incredibly valuable, and can drive innovation in these spaces.
Technically challenging with broad exposure to electrical engineering disciplines
Power electronics requires a broad skill-set, and to truly master the field, you must become well-versed in a number of areas of electrical engineering. In fact, many people in power electronics make successful careers in power electronics by becoming specialist in some of these disciplines, as they relate to power electronics (e.g., magnetics design, advanced digital control). Below is a list of a few selected areas that one must master to become a power electronics expert:
Electromagnetics: Power electronics relies on inductors, transformers, and capacitors to convert energy. Since these passive components store energy as electric and magnetic fields, a strong foundation in electromagnetics is highly valuable for the power electronics student. Modern semiconductor and advanced printed circuit boards (PCB) with their high speed signals and fast transient are also best analyzed using electromagnetic methods.
Control: Almost every power converter must regulate its output (or input) voltage and current. Control is thus an essential part of any power converter. In addition to conventional voltage and current feedback loops, new digital control methods have enabled greatly increased performance in the last few years.
Circuits: Power converters are circuits that process energy, so a strong circuits background is certainly helpful as a power electronics designer. Whether one is building large mega-watt grid-tied power converters or milli-watt CMOS power management solutions, the choice of circuit topology is critical in ensuring high performance. Likewise, the fast transients in modern power circuits means that the designer must understand parasitic inductances and capacitance, and high-speed circuit concepts.
Semiconductor Devices: The active devices (transistors and diodes) used in power converters are critical components. One must carefully weigh the trade-offs in reliability, size, losses, and cost when selecting semiconductor (Si, SiC, GaN, etc.). Since a large portion of the losses in a power converter occurs at the switching instance, a solid understanding of charge transfer, packaging, and parasitic effects in modern semiconductors is a key requirement to design high efficiency power converters.
Packaging and Thermal Management: Modern power electronic components are typically pushing the limits of heat dissipation (to reduce the overall system size), and advanced materials are used for effective heat removal. In fact, at Illinois we have an entire NSF-funded center (POETS) dedicated to the joint design and optimization of electro-thermal systems, with applications primarily in vehicle electrification.
[Note: Professor Pilawa is starting at UC Berkeley on January 1, 2018, and a large portion of the group will move with him. All prospective graduate students interested in working in our group are encouraged to apply to the EECS department at UC Berkeley. This portion has been updated to reflect this change.]
Undergraduates: If you are interested in participating in undergraduate students, send an e-mail to Professor Pilawa (email@example.com) with an up-to-date resume and course transcripts. We generally require a minimum of a two semester commitment for undergraduate research, and strong grades and prior research experience is helpful, but not required. Openings vary from semester to semester, and depend on your general skill-set.
Potential Graduate Students: Please indicate your interest in working with Professor Pilawa when you apply to our program. Note that you may apply for the fall or spring semester. Application instructions to our graduate program can be found here. Note that in a given year, there are typically more than one hundred graduate student applicants that express an interest in joining our group. Professor Pilawa cannot comment on your chance of admission, but in general it requires top grades, reference letters and relevant research experience. Unfortunately due to group size limitations, we must turn away a large number of very highly qualified individuals each year. Please note that this is in no way an indication of your future career success, there are a large number of excellent graduate programs at many universities in the US and abroad where one can launch a successful career in power electronics!
Potential Post-docs: Please e-mail your CV and reference to Professor Pilawa. It helps if you are self-funded, but it is certainly not a requirement.