EE group wins top prize at Innovation Forum

Written by
John Sullivan, Office of Engineering Communications
March 1, 2019

Researchers unveiled technical advances such as a portable device that could reduce injuries, costs and pain associated with intravenous injections and a power architecture that slashes data centers’ electric bills at Princeton University’s 14th annual Innovation Forum on Wednesday, February 27.

Taking the stage at Maeder Hall after a parade of presentations of new technologies, keynote speaker Zakiya Smith Ellis, the New Jersey secretary of higher education, said the presentations illustrated the key role that colleges and universities can play in sparking a resurgence of technical advances in the state.

“New Jersey is the state of innovation, and higher education is where opportunity meets innovation,” said Smith Ellis.

In her address, Smith Ellis said the state must foster both innovation and access to higher education for all citizens if New Jersey is to prosper. The modern, technical economy rewards a highly educated workforce, she said, and New Jersey has an obligation to prepare all its citizens to share in the benefits of innovation without overburdening them with debt.

“The challenge is present and pressing,” she said.

The forum, organized by the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education, showcases talent from across the University, said Margaret Martonosi, the Keller Center director. The nine teams represented collaborations among different academic disciplines and among graduate students, senior researchers and faculty members, as well as undergraduates.

“Keller serves as a bridge across this campus,” said Martonosi, the Hugh Trumbull Adams '35 Professor of Computer Science. She said that Keller hosts classes and instruction in a wide range of disciplines. Entrepreneurship programs, including the Innovation Forum and the eLab summer business accelerator, play prominent roles in the University’s innovation ecosystem.

The Innovation Forum also serves to demonstrate Princeton’s ability to move scientific advances from the lab to the economy. Many companies that have participated in the program have become successful business ventures, nonprofits and social programs.

“The breadth of technologies you are going to hear about is remarkable,” Martonosi said.

This year’s winning entry proposed to restructure power supplies at gigantic data centers that serve as the backbone of modern cloud computing. These centers — often windowless buildings holding racks of computer servers, consume 90 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year in the U.S., generating as much atmospheric carbon dioxide as the entire U.S. airline industry, the researchers said.

Their device restructures the way power is distributed among the computers in a data center. A current data center only delivers about 66 percent of the power it draws from the grid to its computers, the researchers said. The rest is lost to the system used to balance the power among and inside individual computers. By increasing the efficiency of the system, the researchers say they can increase the amount of power delivered to the machines to 88 percent.

The team said their technology would work with solar farms and battery storage systems as well as data centers.

“We look forward to bringing this solution to the real world,” said Youssef Elasser, a team member and a graduate student in electrical engineering.

Winning Team

Ultra-efficient EPUs for future data centers

Minjie Chen, assistant professor of electrical engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment; Ping Wang, graduate student in electrical engineering; Youssef Elasser, graduate student in electrical engineering;, and Yenan Chen, postdoctoral researcher in electrical engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment

At the Princeton PowerLab, the team has developed a new type of power electronics device, the Energy Processing Unit, which supplies power to computing units with extremely high efficiency. Because the EPUs are compact and efficient, the team believes they will cut electricity use by data centers without requiring as much space as current systems. The team believes it can cut data center costs substantially and can apply to technology to other high-power uses including solar farms and grid-level battery storage systems.

See a complete list of teams.

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