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Research Into Power Systems Nets UT’s Sun NSF CAREER Award

As power systems become more interconnected and complex, one of the key concerns has been developing new ways to monitor and control them.

Kai Sun
Kai Sun, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation.

Sun’s work—”Integrated Research and Education in Nonlinear Modal Decoupling and Control for Resilient Interconnected Power Systems”—was recently chosen by the National Science Foundation for a CAREER award, making him the third faculty member from the college chosen for such a prestigious honor since November.Keeping an eye on such systems and detecting problems within them has become something of a specialty for faculty at UT, with Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Kai Sun becoming the latest member of the Tickle College of Engineering to gain recognition for his work.

CAREER awards are given by NSF to help nurture the careers and research of young faculty they feel hold promise in their given fields.

“To be selected for this honor is both a tremendous development, personally, and a validation of the research we are conducting,” said Sun. “This will allow us to continue to explore our ideas relating to stability analysis and control of interconnected power systems.”

Sun’s research focuses on finding new ways to understand and prevent power system instability, improving accuracy of results over methods traditionally used.

That need arose, Sun said, because power systems are becoming ever more interconnected, with a sharp rise in the number of renewable resources that operate in an intermittent pattern.

Those additions produce stresses on the system that traditional methods and simple monitoring might not readily identify.

“There is currently a major gap in technologies that allow for fast, accurate stability analysis of complex, nonlinear power systems,” said Sun. “We hope to reduce that gap by coming up with new methods of analysis and control.”

To reach those goals, Sun and his team have identified three critical steps:

  • Acquiring an in-depth understanding in nonlinear modal dynamics and their interactions in the overall power grid;
  • Establishing a new approach for improving power system stability;
  • Boiling the new approach down to simple, practical steps.

For those efforts, Sun will receive $500,000 from NSF as part of the CAREER award.

Donatello Materassi, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and Cong Trinh, assistant professor of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, were the other two members of the college recently honored with CAREER awards.

Additionally, associate professor Brian O’Meara in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in the College of Arts and Science received the award, giving UT at least four of the prestigious honors in barely 90 days.


David Goddard (865-974-0683,