ECE student wins IEEE ECCE Best Paper Award

12/6/2016 Khushboo Jain, ECE ILLINOIS

Zitao Liao, a second year graduate student of Prof. Pilawa-Podgurski, designed a "multilever flying capacitor."

Written by Khushboo Jain, ECE ILLINOIS

ECE ILLINOIS graduate student Zitao Liao (BSEE ‘15, MSEE in progress) has won the best paper award at the coveted Annual IEEE Energy Conversion Congress & Exposition (ECCE). As a second year graduate student of Robert Pilawa-Podgurski, this was Liao’s first time presenting at a conference, and the award came as a surprise.

Zitao Liao
Zitao Liao
His paper, “A GaN-based Flying-Capacitor Multilevel Boost Converter for High Step-up Conversion,” explores the conversion of different types of high voltage power using a specific converter design. His design of a “multilevel flying capacitor” showcases a highly efficient topology for minimizing dimensions and losses. The findings of the paper are relevant in a variety of industries. In food service and production, these high voltage pulsed electric fields can be applied to beverages and food to kill bacteria. The same technology has space exploration applications where the converters may be used in satellite propellers and thrusters. A prevalent feature in his research is the high power to volume ratio (power density) that the converter can achieve. Liao and his teammates have been working to achieve this since their Google little box challenge in 2015.

The 2016 IEEE Energy Conversion Congress and Expo was held in Milwaukee from September 18 to the 22. The event had a record attendance of 1,645 registrants, and the conference featured over 900 technical presentations selected from 1,717 digests across the globe. The conference recognized 4 papers daily with the best paper award. This award is based upon a cumulative score of content as well as presentation style.

Liao worked hard to ensure that the paper included quality figures, clear plots of their calculated data, and high-resolution images of the prototype of their design. He felt that this conference was an eye-opening experience. “I was presenting for the first time and there was a lot of pressure. Every word you mention, there will be an expert in the audience who has studied the topic for several years and can call you out on the slightest inaccuracy.” Liao explained. “Therefore I spent a lot of time writing the proper terminology and adding a lot of footnotes.” 

A high-resolution picture of the flying capacitors used in Liao's prototype.
A high-resolution picture of the flying capacitors used in Liao's prototype.

Professor Pilawa helped Liao prepare for the conference by conducting weekly meetings where Liao was able to rehearse the presentation. Liao also received aid from senior PhD students in Professor Pilawa’s research group. All these efforts came to fruition when the session chair personally congratulated Liao and said that his presentation’s flow and style were exceptional.

The best paper award carries with it an award certificate from the prestigious Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and a $100 Amazon gift card. Zitao Liao’s paper will soon be published on IEEE Xplore and will be available as a reference to the power electronics community and industry across the globe.

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This story was published December 6, 2016.