In memoriam: Regents Professor Ned Mohan

With deep sorrow, we announce the passing of Regents Professor Ned Mohan on Feb 11, 2024. The department, University, and the world has lost a giant in his field of power electronics and power systems, a brilliant researcher, a generous educator, and an individual who deeply cared for the welfare of his fellow human beings.

Born in India, Mohan earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1967 from the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur. He then earned his master’s degree in 1969 at the University of New Brunswick, Canada. Keen on pursuing a doctoral degree, he worked under the guidance of Professor  Harold A. Peterson, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He earned his doctoral degree in electrical power systems in 1973, and along the way his interests led him to acquire a master’s degree in nuclear engineering in 1972 (also from UW- Madison). He joined the University of Minnesota in 1976. 

Brilliant researcher

As a faculty member who specialized in electric energy systems and power electronics, Mohan’s work was an embodiment of the University’s key missions: research and education. He carried out these entwined missions with his eyes set on the future, while being keenly aware of the simultaneous needs for access, equality, and social justice. Even as a child, growing up in a small town in central India, he came to the conclusion that access to electricity is a basic human right. With more than a billion people lacking access to electricity or reliable power supply, as a specialist in the field, he dauntlessly fought for access, and improvement of materials and equipment for carbon-free generation.

Mohan’s research interests spanned across power electronics and power systems. He will be best remembered for his contributions to the modeling, analysis, and control of power-electronic interfaces for applications in power systems, renewable energy, drives, and energy storage. His recent work in these areas were in modular multi-level and matrix converter topologies. 

As a researcher and educator, he adopted a holistic approach to electrical systems. His keen awareness of the interwoven nature of energy generation, power, control, and access to electricity, informed much of his pioneering inventions: current-shaping circuit in 1978 for supplying power from photovoltaic systems, a precursor to the current-shaping circuits in our current day laptops; active filters to supply ripple-free electricity (patented by the University in 1979) followed up by researchers around the world and commercialized; Minnesota Rectifier for charging fleets of electric vehicles (patented by the University in 1994); ultra-compact DC-DC converter for aircraft, funded by NASA (patented by the University in 2003). 

Raising funds to support their research is a critical activity for faculty in research institutions, and Mohan was particularly skillful at it. The University of Minnesota Center for Electrical Energy (UMCEE) started in 1981 by Mohan with his mentor, the late Professor Vernon Albertson is one of the longest lasting centers here, comprising six regional utilities including Xcel Energy funding and guiding his research in relevant directions. Hardware labs he developed with the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF) have been commercialized by Vishay HiRel Systems at their plant in Duluth, Minnesota. The labs have been acquired by 109 universities in the United States and many more abroad. For several years Mohan was also a member of the organizing committee of Minnesota Power Systems Conference (MIPSYCON) a prominent regional conference that focuses on the challenges faced by electric utilities in the Midwest. More recently, his research was largely funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) as it considered his work vital to national security.

Dedicated educator

Mohan was not driven by research alone. He was dedicated to equality, access, and diversity in education, and the success of his students. To that end, he was a tireless educator. He organized a series of workshops on power engineering education that were funded by the NSF and the ONR. Several of these were co-sponsored by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), EPRI, and AEP. These workshops were particularly appreciated by faculty members just starting their research and teaching careers. More recently, concerned by the shrinking skilled workforce in electric power engineering, he was working on the critical task of building a robust talent pool. Sponsored by NSF and co-sponsored by the NAE, he led a workshop titled “Building a Robust Workforce in Electric Power Engineering,” in April 2023; it was a step towards meeting the challenge. It was organized in partnership with the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Heads Association (ECEDHA).

As a testament to his success as a teacher, of the 54 doctoral students he graduated many are pursuing academic careers in prestigious institutions in the United States and abroad, while others are working in leading companies such as Apple, Tesla, General Motors and others around the world. Having mentored almost 200 graduate students, Mohan’s impact is on a global scale. He believed in sharing his knowledge and besides giving guest lectures and keynote addresses at conferences and symposia, he was instrumental in the development of 19 graduate level video courses, prepared by experts in the field to function as resources to students and practicing engineers. Through an ONR grant, these courses are disseminated via CUSP (Consortium of Universities for Sustainable Power), an organization created by Mohan comprising 450 faculty from 235 universities in the United States. The lectures are accessible to students across the world; Mohan was keen that these materials be available to students who might otherwise not have access to such advanced education. He wrote six widely used textbooks that have been translated into nine languages and implemented as standard texts in universities across the country. Reflective of his commitment to education, Mohan was instrumental in growing and modernizing the University’s power program.

His teaching philosophy was based on mutual respect. Treating each of his students as his legacy, he worked tirelessly to ensure they had a deep understanding of the subject matter to be successful in their career. In “Climate Change: Implementing Solutions,” a course Mohan developed and taught, he had a unique set of challenges. As an introductory course with no prerequisites, it is open to students of all stripes, from freshmen to seniors, from those pursuing performing arts majors to those in STEM majors. He designed the course and prepared for it in ways that ensured that all students who took the course would be successful. His students and those who have worked with him as his advisees or mentees can attest to the close attention he gave everyone, making sure they were included in all discussions and well prepared for future challenges. An innovator in the classroom, he was one of the first faculty in the College of Science and Engineering who embraced the flipped instructional methodology. In recognition of his deep and unwavering commitment to education and the success of his students, the University conferred Mohan with both teaching awards: the Morse-Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2007, and the Outstanding Contributions to Postbaccalaureate, Graduate, Professional Education Award in 2014. These are the highest teaching awards the University offers. 

Pursuit of diversity and inclusivity

Outside academic topics, Mohan doggedly pursued diversity and inclusivity, mentoring underrepresented students through an NSF-REU program. He frequently reached out to prospective students and engaged with them on the topic of climate change, and the exchanges showed him that these conversations resonated the most with those who will suffer the consequences of climate change the most: students from minority and low-income communities. This further encouraged him to continue his work of equipping them with the right tools and knowledge to combat and navigate the challenges that loom on the horizon. 

Mohan was a keen believer in humility and respect as answers to ideological extremism. As one who practiced these principles, and as a board member of the Collegeville Institute’s Multi-Religious Fellows Program, he was deeply committed to helping young individuals explore ways to get along while preserving their own diverse faiths. He carried on this work through the University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute as well as the Institute for Global Studies. He also developed a popular free resource on Hinduism for teachers teaching a year-long course on world history and cultures at many Minnesota high schools. 

Recognizing his wide and deep impact on electrical and computer engineering, and engineering education, he was honored by the University of Minnesota and several prestigious flagship groups. The highlights include: in 1993, he was made the Oscar A. Schott Professor of Power Electronics and Systems; in 1996, Mohan was elevated to Fellow of IEEE; in 2010 he received the Utility Wind Integration Group’s Achievement Award (currently known as the Energy Systems Integration Group); in 2012, he received the IEEE PES Ramakumar Renewable Energy Excellence Award; in 2014 he was honored with the IEEE PES Nari Hingorani FACTS Award. The National Academy of Engineering elected Mohan as a member “for contributions to the integration of electronics into power systems and innovations in power engineering education” in 2014. In 2019 he received the inaugural IEEE Industrial Applications Society Educator/Mentor award for “outstanding contributions to education and mentorship of students and young engineers within the fields of interest of the IEEE Industry Applications Society,” and in the same year, the University honored him with the Regents Professorship. It is the highest honor the University bestows on its faculty and is in recognition of the recipient’s “exceptional contributions to the University through teaching, research, scholarship, or creative work, and contributions to the public good.” In 2022 Mohan was recognized with the IEEE James H. Mulligan, Jr. Education medal for “leadership in power engineering education by developing courses, textbooks, labs, and a faculty network.” 

All those who knew Mohan and interacted with him for any length of time always came away with a keen sense of his kindness and generosity, the wit and joy he exuded, and his warmth as a human being. The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is grateful for having enjoyed his company these many years and will deeply miss him. We extend our sincere condolences to his wife Mary, and children Michael and Tara. May he rest.