Virginia Tech engineering professors James Thorp and Arun Phadke are recipients of the 2008 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Electrical Engineering for their combined contributions of more than 60 years to the power industry.
Specifically, they have collaborated on many advances that strengthen the electric utility industry’s ability to prevent power grid blackouts, or to make them easier to recover from and less intense.
For this collaborative work, the Franklin Institute has now included Thorp and Phadke in its list of the greatest men and women of science, engineering, and technology. For the past 182 years, The Franklin Institute Awards has presented its honors, making these recognitions among the oldest and most prestigious comprehensive science awards in the world. These awards identify individuals whose great innovation has benefited humanity, advanced science, launched new fields of inquiry, and deepened the understanding of the universe.
Competition for the Benjamin Franklin Medals is international. Participants from seven fields of science are eligible: chemistry, computer and cognitive science, earth and environmental science, electrical engineering, life science, mechanical engineering, and physics. In the past, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright, Marie and Pierre Curie, and Jane Goodall have been among the recipients.
“Professors Thorp and Phadke, both members of the National Academy of Engineering, are considered to be preeminent trailblazers in their fields of electric power,” said Richard Benson, dean of Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering. “Their research has a direct impact on the daily lives of everyone around the world. In fact, both are also members of a prestigious Chinese-funded research team directed to improve the protection and security of the worldwide, interconnected electric power grid.”
Thorp came to Virginia Tech in 2004 to head the Bradley Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering. He was awarded Virginia Tech’s Hugh P. and Ethel C. Kelly Professorship of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Most of his professional career was spent at Cornell University, where he has a strong record of earning teaching awards, conducting research, and administering its School of Electrical Engineering.
Thorp was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering in 1989 for contributions to the development of digital techniques for power system protection. He received the 2001 Power Engineering Society Career Service Award. He received four teaching awards from Cornell where he started as an assistant professor upon receiving his doctorate in 1962. He also earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from Cornell in 1959 and in 1961, respectively.
Phadke joined Virginia Tech’s electrical and computer engineering department in 1982 and held the American Electric Power professorship. He is a specialist in electrical power systems, and in the application of computers for protection and control of such systems. In the 1980s Phadke developed the world’s first synchronized phasor measurement unit, providing real-time measurement of specific voltages and currents at power system substations.
Phadke, now a University Distinguished Professor emeritus at Virginia Tech, received his bachelor’s degree in 1955, and was distinguished by his top rank in the graduating class from Agra University of India. He earned similar honors from the Indian Institute of Technology of Khargpur, India when he was named to the top rank of his graduating class of electrical engineers receiving their bachelor's degrees. The Illinois Institute of Technology awarded Phadke his master's degree in electrical engineering in 1961, and he received his doctoral degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1964.