Power Engineering Group celebrates PaiFest
ECE ILLINOIS’s Power and Energy Systems area traditionally holds symposia to honor its distinguished faculty. Professor Thomas Overbye and co-founder and president of PowerWorld Mark Laufenberg (BSEE '92, MS '93, PhD '97) decided recently it would be a great privilege to host a symposium to honor Professor Emeritus M.A. Pai with a celebration of his career and achievements.
“Pai is extremely well known in the field of power systems and dynamics, his work is foundational in the area,” Laufenberg said. “He’s written several important textbooks and dozens of important papers. He really was the forefront of several of today’s major research areas.”
They planned the event together, and the ECE department hosted it Oct. 15, 2015. The event, which lasted an entire day, featured speakers from throughout the nation and the world led presentations related to Pai, covering his technical achievements and his personal life. A full schedule of the event remains online.
“PaiFest was a memorable event in my life,” Pai said. “It was so nice to see so many old students of mine, each has distinguished themselves in a unique way!”
Pai’s career at Illinois spanned 1981 to 2003, though even this considerable chunk of time only accounts for the latter part of his professional life, which began at his professorship at the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur in 1963.
Speakers at the event knew him throughout his career and life, from graduate students that studied under him at Kanpur and Illinois to professional colleagues, personal friends, and family, such as his son-in-law, Arizona State University professor Vijay Vittal, who gave the event’s after-dinner address.
Laufenberg studied under Pai as a graduate student in the power systems area at Illinois. He recalls Pai as an adviser and colleague as equal parts formidable and humble, patient and determined.
“He was a terrific adviser,” Laufenberg said. “He was the kind of adviser who would make sure to give his students plenty of direction, and always let you know what was expected of you. He always had a strategy of successfully getting his students through preparation and the publishing process of becoming an academic, and yet also being very compassionate and gentle while making sure you got your degree. I was his 23rd PhD student and he had many more successful ones afterwards, so he was definitely doing something right.”
As a professional colleague in academia, Overbye noted: “Pai was wonderful to work with. He was always the most polite person, he had really good insights into problems he was fun to talk to, very considerate person to work with.”
The technical presentations spanned analyses and appreciations of Pai’s work, and included supplemental research academics had performed on his foundational concepts. But for Laufenberg and Overbye, the real joys of the event were getting to hear the variety of speakers’ recollections of Pai’s life.
“Of course I enjoyed the technical presentations,” Overbye said. “But my real favorite part was when Vijay Vittal, Pai’s son-in-law, took the stage and described meeting Pai while he was still teaching in India. Pai broke his leg, but instead of cancelling classes, continued having classes at his home, using a blackboard. His daughter would serve all of the students tea, and that’s how Vijay met the woman he would marry.”
Hosting PaiFest would not have been possible, Overbye noted, without the efforts of the two ECE department support staff members, Robin Smith and Joyce Mast. He commended them on their skill in planning the event’s logistics and coordinating such a significant event with so many people.
“Robin and Joyce did so much in setting this up. Mark and I sent out the invitations for the speakers but they managed all the logistics and really put in a lot of effort into making sure it went well,” Overbye said. “The catered food they organized was wonderful, everything went smoothly, and it was a great time all around.”