SPOTLIGHT ON: DR. PRAVEEN JAIN, 2021 IEEE MEDAL IN POWER ENGINEERING
A pioneer in his field, Praveen Jain, IEEE Fellow and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Engineering Institute of Canada, and the Canadian Academy of Engineering, has been responsible for revolutionizing many aspects of high-frequency power conversion technology with innovations that have found applications in the space, telecommunications, computer, induction melting, and renewable energy industries.
Given the wide-reaching span of his professional accomplishments, as evidenced by his more than 100 patents, it could be presumed that Praveen was predestined to join the field. He did, in fact, grow up in a family with several uncles and cousins who were engineers, and yet it was almost by accident that he became an electrical engineer.
“I wanted to become an engineer, but what kind I had no idea,” he explained. “Not knowing anything, I chose electrical engineering only because I had to list one choice on my application for admission. I stood among the top students in the entrance exam and the first choice was awarded to me. That’s how I got started in electrical engineering.”
After graduating with a BE (Honours) degree from Allahabad University, Praveen worked with Crompton Greaves and Hindustan Brown Boveri in India; however, he was not very satisfied since working realities were different from what he imagined while growing up in a small town in rural India. Then, one of his uncles encouraged him to go abroad for a higher education.
In 1981, Praveen came to the University of Toronto, where he studied under the supervision of the late Professor Shashi Dewan – a foundational pillar of power electronics. Praveen’s work on induction heating power supplies helped him develop a deep understanding of resonant circuits applied in high-frequency power conversion – a topic that carved his future path.
At the time, it was a relatively new area and, according to Praveen, “Not much had been done before. The field was wide open, so I was fortunate to work on very innovative and challenging projects, which is one of the reasons so many new patents and technology came out. You do not – cannot – plan for this.”
His place in the industry was cemented almost from the very start when he invented a new class of single-stage, high-frequency ac-to-dc resonant converters with near-unity power factor – which Praveen now recalls as one of the highlights of his career.
Surprisingly, it was not the discovery itself that was the most remarkable part, but the opportunity it afforded him to successfully present an original idea to his superiors and have it accepted for the design of power converters for the Canadarm2 of the International Space Station.
“It was my first invention when I started in industry,” Praveen explained. “It came to me while I was walking after lunch, and I worked on it for quite some time. The hardest part, however, was presenting my idea to management, which was something I had never done before. I was very nervous, but it ended up being a very rewarding experience.”
That initial invention was followed by myriad others that have resulted not just in over 100 patents, but also in over 600 publications. Intuition and the ability to envision solutions have guided Praveen throughout his career. His contributions have addressed the starting problems of high-frequency resonant inverters, new constant-frequency resonant power converter topologies, asymmetrical-pulse-width modulation of resonant converters, self-sustained oscillation control of resonant converters, new non-linear digital control techniques for ultra-fast transient response, and elimination of the use of electrolytic capacitors from the design of many power electronics converters.
While his career in Canada took off as a senior space power engineer at Canadian Astronautics, Praveen also spent many years at Nortel Networks before joining academia, first at Concordia University, and then at Queen’s University where he has been for over 20 years. Becoming a professor and Canada Research Chair at Queen’s University also had an unlikely beginning.
“I was approached to join academia and said no three times. I was invited to give a lecture at Concordia and fell in love with academia ever since,” Praveen recalled fondly. “I still do a lot of work with industry, but academia has afforded me a lot of freedom to focus on and expand my interests.”
An active IEEE member since the mid-1980s, Praveen advanced from a student member to a fellow, and describes the organization as his “professional home.” Now he has been awarded the highest recognition in his field – the 2021 IEEE Medal in Power Engineering “for contributions to the theory and practice of high-frequency power-conversion systems.”
“As the world’s largest professional organization, IEEE covers almost all the technology areas and has more than half a million active members. It has a very strong network and offers professionals valuable opportunities to interact with others. Over my many years of membership, the benefits I have received have been innumerable,” Praveen said.
When asked about his plans for the future, Praveen noted that he would like to continue working in the area of renewable energy, and in particular PV solar.
“I’m currently involved in Sparq Systems, a company designing and manufacturing PV solar energy products. There are many challenges, but I really want to see if mass deployment of PV solar can reach all the small villages in India, Africa, and other places. If we can accomplish this, the benefits will be so far reaching.”
Praveen’s commitment to giving back also has a long history. His patent royalties from CHiL Semiconductor, a company that Praveen founded and was acquired by International Rectifier, were directly donated to Queen’s University, a testament to his steadfast contribution to social advancement.
The Medals and Recognitions are the highest honors given by IEEE, the world’s largest association of technical professionals. The IEEE Medal in Power Engineering is sponsored by the following IEEE societies – Industry Applications Society (IAS), Industrial Electronics Society (IES), Power Electronics Society (PELS), and the Power & Energy Society (PES) – and recognizes researchers who have made outstanding contributions to the technology associated with the generation, transmission, distribution, application, and utilization of electric power for the betterment of society. Praveen is only the third Canadian to be awarded this distinction.