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Fred Lee Elected to National Academy of Engineering

Center for Power Electronics Systems

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University Distinguished Professor Fred Lee has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering for his contributions “to high-frequency power conversion and systems integration technologies, education, industry alliances, and technology transfer.” Membership in the academy is one of the highest professional honors accorded to an engineer.

Fred Lee

Fred Lee

Lee, who directs the Center for Power Electronics Systems, is the third ECE professor to attain this honor, joining Arun Phadke and James Thorp.

Lee has an international reputation not only for developing novel power electronics technology, but also for promoting the use and effectiveness of power electronics and helping to develop the field. Power electronics, he says, is an enabling technology that can reduce electrical consumption by up to 33 percent.

“Almost everything a consumer touches has power electronics in it. It is really an enabling technology that is not often visible,” he says. To help the field achieve that promise, he has built strong industry–university collaborations and has been an innovator in breaking barriers to technology transfer.

Technical Breakthroughs

He first came to Virginia Tech to build the university’s power electronics program in 1977 — the year after the first commercial power MOSFET was introduced. He had served for three years as a Member of the Technical Staff of the Control and Power Processing Department at TRW Systems.

As electronics became ubiquitous and consumed more power, problems with overheating, switching losses, energy efficiency, electromagnetic interference (EMI), and packaging of power conditioning systems grew in importance. To overcome these problems, Lee and his students pioneered various soft-switching techniques in the 1980s and 1990s, such as zero-voltage (ZV) quasi-resonant, ZV multi-resonant, and ZV pulse-width modulated converters.

These soft-switching techniques eliminate virtually all switching losses and stresses and reduce switching noise and EMI. Soft-switching technology has become the mainstay of modern power electronics equipment, leading to reduced size and weight, with improved reliability and efficiency. Lee holds 19 U.S. patents in soft-switching technology.

Lee and his graduate students also have made their mark on computer processors. In 1997, his team developed a multi-phase voltage regulator (VR) module for the then-upcoming generation of Intel Pentium microprocessors. Today, every microprocessor is powered with this multi-phase VR. It is easily scalable to meet ever-increasing current consumption, clock rate, and stringent voltage regulation requirements. Its use has been extended to telecommunications networks, and all forms of mobile electronics equipment. Lee’s team has generated 25 U.S. patents in VR technology, addressing key areas such as power delivery architecture, modularity and scalability, control and sensing, integrated magnetics, and advanced packaging and integration.

Developing the Field

Lee has been a strong proponent of university-industry collaboration, believing that with industry involvement, university researchers can pursue research that can have the greatest impact on society.

In 1983, he founded the Virginia Power Electronics Center, which later became a Technology Development Center for the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology. Under Lee’s leadership, this center became the largest university-based power electronics research group in the country. More than 90 firms became associated with the world-renowned center.

In August of 1998, Lee and Dushan Boroyevich were successful in competing for a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center called the Center for Power Electronics Systems, with total National Science Foundation funding that exceeded $42 million.

Lee directed this government center, comprising five universities and more than 100 corporations, for 10 years, the maximum number allowed by the scientific agency. The center participants included Virginia Tech, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, North Carolina A&T State University, and the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez. During its 10-year tenure, the Center was cited as the model ERC for its industry collaboration, technology transfer, and education and outreach programs.

Lee’s research interests include high-frequency power conversion, distributed power systems, renewable energy, power quality, high-density electronics packaging and integration, and modeling and control. He has supervised to completion 80 master’s level and 71 Ph.D. students. He holds 69 U.S. patents, and has published 236 journal articles and more than 585 refereed technical papers.

He earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from Duke University in 1972 and in 1974, respectively. He earned his undergraduate degree from the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan in 1968.