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The power of giving back

[Praveen Jain]
Praveen Jain is the Canada Research Chair in Power Electronics and Director of the Queen's Centre for Energy and Power Electronics Research (ePOWER). (University Communications)

Praveen Jain’s success is due in no small part to the opportunities he has received throughout his education and research career.

The Canada Research Chair in Power Electronics and Director of the Queen's Centre for Energy and Power Electronics Research (ePOWER) repeats time and again that he wouldn’t be where he is today without the work, support and generosity of others.

And that is a big reason why he has donated all his patent royalties to Queen’s.

It’s no small sum. Dr. Jain is responsible for more than 50 patents and has started up two companies through PARTEQ Innovations, whose role it is to commercialize intellectual property arising from university-generated research, such as Dr. Jain’s.

One of his start-ups, CHiL Semiconductor, was sold in 2011 to a U.S. company for $75 million. Dr. Jain developed and patented the technology that formed the basis for CHiL’s success. All the funds he received from the patent royalties were directed back to the university.

With his current start-up, SPARQ Systems, he intends to do the same.

“It gives me great career satisfaction to be involved in a start-up company as a founder,” he says. “The research work that makes a start-up possible is done here at the university, so I feel it’s only right that the royalties that I receive as a result be directed back to the university, to be put to good use to allow students to develop their research knowledge, skills and experience.”

It’s simple for Dr. Jain, as he feels that the best use of the funds is to direct it to education, where it will create opportunities for others to realize their potential.

“I was welcomed in Canada and have benefitted from a number of opportunities. People in the past made contributions that provided me with valuable chances to learn and contribute,” he says. “I appreciate their generosity, and want to ‘pay it forward’ to support the next generation of researchers and inventors.”

A key to Dr. Jain’s groundbreaking work – with the aim of creating new energy-efficient, cost-effective and environmentally-friendly power electronic technologies – is trying different approaches.

As he explains it, there are two key steps to innovation – identifying the problem that needs to be solved and understanding the solutions that are already out there.

“Then the question to ask is: how can you create a different solution? So you start looking at things from a very different angle. When you do that, you may find two or three potential solutions,” says Dr. Jain. “Then your job is to evaluate the potential solutions and decide which one makes more sense.”

Dr. Jain’s research these days is focused on increasing the efficiency of power conversion in electronics.

The primary source of energy used in the world is electricity – in its many forms – from computers to jets, from cars to household appliances. However, different products use different forms of electricity.

For example, the standard power frequency in North America is usually 50 Hertz, but a plane that lands at Pearson Airport may use 400 Hz power, so power frequency conversion is needed for the ground power unit used to power the plane while it is at the gate. And when any power unit receives one type of electricity and converts it into another form, a lot of power is wasted.

Even a slight reduction in electrical energy lost in conversion could have a massive result.

“Almost two-thirds of electricity throughout the world is processed through electronic devices,” Dr. Jain says. “So if you can improve the efficiency even by 1 per cent you can imagine the impact – you can save an enormous amount of energy.”

At ePOWER, Dr. Jain and his team of researchers are working to make this a reality. However, it’s far from a simple task, as many of the electronics, Dr. Jain points out, are used in consumer goods. As a result there is a need to make them cost-effective as well.

“So to meet the needs of industry and people who buy its products, at ePOWER we have to do this conversion in the most efficient manner and at the lowest possible cost, ensuring as small a device size and as low a device weight as possible,” he says. “Successfully balancing all these considerations creates technologies that meet the needs of companies and consumers.”