Photo: Student Chis Harwell and Dr. Ramachandran in Power Lab
We recently interviewed Dr. Bhuvaneswari Ramachandran, Assistant Professor and NSF-Supported ADVANCE Scholar in the School of Science and Engineering at UWF. The UWF ADVANCE program supports women in STEM disciplines. On the day of the interview, new equipment was being installed in the Power Lab, opening in January. A generous donation from Gulf Power Company in Pensacola made the lab possible.
How did you become interested in science?
BR: When I was a little girl, about 5 or 6, we did not have water filters or refrigeration—all our water had to be boiled. I remember observing how water bubbled when it was boiling but was calm at room temperature. The same cup of water changed with temperature. Later, when I was about 10 years old I was curious about the light switch and believed that inside the switch there were tiny generators that generated the electricity; I did not know about transmission lines and how the electricity was projected from somewhere else. So, I had an early curiosity about natural phenomenon.
How did having a female scientist role model influence your decision to study science at an early age?
BR: In India, the public school I attended was an all girl school with all female teachers. My 10th grade teacher sparked curiosity about how the world works as she taught us about the lunar cycles and tides – how to observe changes in nature. She acted as a mentor who inspired my path to study science. It seemed natural to me that women could pursue science as a career having female role models in my early education.
How did your research interests evolve to electrical grids and markets?
BR: My early curiosity about electricity, where it came from, how it traveled places, kept me learning and eventually to the study of electrical engineering. Again, making the observation that even a tiny battery with only 1.25 milliamps could deliver a shock when I touched my tongue to it, I marveled to think of a line that could conduct 800 amps of power! How can a conductor carry so much? This evolved into my interest in power grids and the cost of transmitting electricity. In India electricity is very expensive and unreliable too. So naturally, I also wanted to understand how to reduce the cost of generation and also make power more reliable to consumers like us. That is my current focus of research in the Electrical and Computer Engineering program at UWF.
Through all this time I was living in India, eventually earning my PhD in Electrical Engineering from Annamalai University. Later I accepted a Post Doctoral position at Florida State University. I was experimenting with integrating renewable energy sources into the grid. This led to my research on new decentralized control environment for distributed energy resources in a smart grid including demand-response. How will markets respond to decentralized control of energy use and stored excess, to people and businesses having control over when they produce and use electricity, with the ability to sell back the excess? This is very complex, and an evolving area of research which has become my primary scientific focus.
What keeps you up dreaming at night?
BR: I dream about what it would be like to live in a world with all renewable energy sources, a system that reduces bills in the home and businesses, where government participation eases the way to a new grid-market system. I dream of all electric vehicles and a very interactive system that gives customers choices on when to charge or discharge their electric vehicles and also the price at which they can charge or discharge. I dream of creating this distributed energy system and the associated control infrastructure.
What would you like to see happen in your discipline area at UWF?
BR: I want students to be truly involved in my research area, through capstone projects using and designing hardware so they get a hands on experience. This will strengthen their opportunity to pursue a graduate degree/doctorate if they wish and also industry-relevant experience that gives them an edge when applying for a job. I wrote an NSF International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) proposal this summer, and an NSF CAREER Proposal which both create a series of opportunities for undergraduate involvement in research. The former will allow students to travel to Switzerland and France to work in international labs mentored by leading researchers in Power and Energy.
See Related Publication: “Intelligent power management in micro grids with EV penetration” in Expert Systems with Applications.