Unexpected Discoveries from an International Electricity Blackout

in NEWS, Students

By Gabriella McNevin

ECE Professor Castañón (left), Distinguished Lecturer Kenneth Loparo (center), and Mechanical Engineering Professor John Baillieul (right).
ECE Professor Castañón (left), Distinguished Lecturer Kenneth Loparo (center), and Mechanical Engineering Professor John Baillieul (right).

On August 14, 2003, traffic lights in New York City went black. People lost electricity in cities and towns spanning from the northeastern part of the United States to Ontario, Canada. That month, the Head of the North American Electric Reliability Council Michehl R. Gent echoed a common question, “How could this happen? (CNN)”

Today, answers to that question are available in Dr. Kenneth Loparo’s research.

On Wednesday, March 4th, Dr. Kenneth Loparo gave a lecture at Boston University Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. His lecture was part of the ECE Distinguished Lecture Series that brings the country’s leading researchers to the department to share their novel contributions to the field. At the conclusion of his talk, hands flew up in the air with participants eager to engage with the speaker. Loparo’s audience of professors, researchers, and students, were riddled with questions and comments on his work.

Loparo had the crowd’s inquisitive attention after relating how his research can provide further insights into how a complex dynamical system can fail, using the events of the 2003 blackout as an exemplar. He explained that his research in “Modeling, Stability, and Security in Cyber-Physical Systems: Challenges, Opportunities & Future Directions”; can be applied to manage critical infrastructure, such as those involved in energy and transportation. A topic of particular interest to Loparo’s audience was the development of modeling and analytical tools that can be used to study how disturbances can affect system response through complex interactions that can lead to “cascading” events.

Professor Loparo was visiting from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. He is a Nord Professor of Engineering and A.L. Parker Chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Loparo’s talk was the first of a three part Distinguished Lecture Series. The Spring 2015 series will feature a lecture from Professor Luke Lester from Virginia Tech on March 18, 2015. The title of his lecture is “Quantum Dot Laser Diodes and Mode-Locking.”