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Still abuzz about the power grid

Some 50 years after beginning his career, Anjan Bose’s expertise remains in high demand. Now he’s helping to chart the future of the Washington State Academy of Sciences.

The Electrical-Mechanical Engineering Building sits on the western edge of the Washington State University Pullman campus, the centerpiece of the University’s engineering complex that includes Sloan and Dana Halls.

It’s here, in the EME, as the building is affectionately known, that one of the world’s most influential power grid experts calls home. ‘Home’ may be a bit of a misnomer, though. WSU Regents’ Professor, National Academy of Engineering member, and in-demand consultant Anjan Bose could well be on the opposite side of the country—or the globe—instead of in his EME office.

A technical leader in the power grid control industry, Bose’s expertise helps ensure the reliability of the systems that deliver electricity to their users. Due to the world’s dependence on electricity, there’s no end in sight to his globetrotting schedule.

After more than 50 years in industry and academia, Bose remains energized by the quest for knowledge and discovery. He seeks answers to fundamental questions each time he’s called upon for his expertise: What’s the source of cleaner electricity? How much does it cost? What is the impact on the environment?

Bose in power grid lab with student

“If you can monitor the power grid more closely, you can get more reliability and efficiency,” he says. “This is even more important with the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. We want to have affordable, sustainable energy.”

In addition to teaching courses in Pullman in the fall and mentoring graduate students, Bose regularly travels to Washington, D.C., to advise federal officials on energy policies. During the Obama administration, Bose served as a senior advisor to the Secretary of Energy and helped develop a plan for modernizing the grid. He also collaborates on research projects with colleagues all over the world.

Leader of the Washington State Academy of Sciences

In 1863, President Lincoln founded what is now the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), a nonprofit organization that brings the best scientists together to advise on issues of national importance. Many states also have science academies, but most are smaller organizations focused on science education.

When the Washington State Academy of Sciences (WSAS) was created in 2005, it was modeled on Lincoln’s vision. WSAS members apply their scientific expertise to advise on any issues—from coastal impacts of rising sea levels, to clogged traffic in the Puget Sound area, to unusual disease outbreaks

After then Governor Christine Gregoire signed the bill creating WSAS, she turned to the state’s two public research universities—WSU and the University of Washington—for guidance.

“I was one of eight scientists, three from WSU and five from the University of Washington, who were assigned to get this going,” Bose recalls. “It was definitely a pull-ourselves-up-by-our-bootstraps type of process.”

It’s an honor to be elected by the top scientists in the state. If I can provide that service, I’m happy to do so. The future is bright for the academy.

Bose and his colleagues were selected on the basis of their membership in NASEM. The newly formed governing board quickly set to work creating WSAS’s bylaws and recruiting Washington scientists from industry, universities, and research laboratories to join the academy.

Now, almost a decade later, Bose is still involved with WSAS, which is focused on creating a brighter and more sustainable future for Washington. In 2016, he was elected president of the academy, giving him an even bigger role in shaping the state’s approach to a variety of challenging public issues.

“It’s an honor to be elected by the top scientists in the state. If I can provide that service, I’m happy to do so,” he says. “The future is bright for the academy.”

During his year as president, Bose is leading the charge to address one of the academy’s biggest challenges: lack of public awareness of the organization. Despite serving as an invaluable resource to state legislators and industry members alike, many people are unaware of the fledgling organization.

“We need to make more people aware of what the academy can do to benefit the state,” Bose says. “Washington is very dependent on science and engineering. We’re next to the ocean and Puget Sound—this state needs to be mindful of the environment. We are the home of high tech and cutting-edge medicine—we need to nurture the best education.”

WSAS members currently tackle issues like environmental quality; sustainability and climate change; jobs, infrastructure, and economic development; and quality of life, health, education, and workforce development. WSAS publishes reports containing scientific and technical analyses to inform public discussion and decision making. The organization doesn’t make policy recommendations.

A smaller world

In 1945, World War II officially ended. Bose was born the next year in India, which became an independent nation the year after. This was the start of an era in which newly freed colonial countries, like India, realized that they had to rapidly industrialize to catch up with the West.

That growing awareness in India opened up new global opportunities for children of his generation, Bose remembers. The country’s young people began flocking to scientific fields.

“I grew up in an industrial area of India,” Bose says. “My father worked in a steel factory. It was common for children in that area to go into engineering. I was lucky to study electrical engineering at the newly inaugurated Indian Institute of Technology.”

While Bose knew early on he would pursue engineering, he didn’t know exactly what route he would take. But a chance encounter with a research project while he was a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley revealed the possible ramifications of new digital technology on the operation of the power grid. His path forward became clearer.

“The power grid had already existed for 75 years,” Bose explains. “It was the application of computers that made it exciting for me.”

The opportunities for a young electrical engineer in the United States were abundant. After spending two years in New York City planning the transmission grid for the Northeast, Bose earned a doctorate at Iowa State, then spent eight years building computerized control centers for power grids. Shortly thereafter, he began his career in higher education at Arizona State University in 1981 before moving to WSU in 1993, where he has served as director of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and as the dean of the College of Engineering and Architecture during his tenure.

Silhouette of Bose in office

He’s never looked back since.

“It was exciting, professionally, to move to the U.S.,” he recalls. “I got the chance to use my education and my research skills for good. I am proud of the fact that the USA leads the world in developing smart grid technology and that WSU plays a major role in the effort.”

Bose says he has no plans to retire any time soon.

“I have no hobbies and that’s why I’ll probably never retire,” he says, laughing. “I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.”