Jeff Ewanchuk just finished the first year of his PhD in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He’s a hometown boy who did both his undergraduate and graduate degrees with ECE before working in industry for a year. Now he’s back for his PhD, focusing his research on power systems for electric vehicles. His work has already led him to connections with General Motors’ electric vehicles division through California-based ECM, as well as a place working on Canada’s last remaining entry to the Automotive X-prize. Jeff sat down with us to talk about his research and why he chose grad studies at ECE.
What made you choose graduate studies at the U of A?
Going into your masters you don’t know too much about the whole field. I was always interested in power – power electronics, drive systems, big power plants. During my undergrad I did a summer term at Epcor and big machinery has always fascinated me. So I went to [ECE professor John Salmon] and he introduced me to the world of power electronics.
Canada also has great scholarship support from NSERC, which provides a decent living for a graduate student. I was able to win that scholarship, and combined with iCORE’s scholarship program, Alberta really offered a good position for me as a young researcher. Furthermore, I got along really well with Dr. Salmon and [ECE professor Andy Knight], so in addition to the financial support, the University of Alberta had the knowledge base to compliment. I haven’t been disappointed so far, because they’ve let me not only do the pure academic research, but they’ve also let me combine that research with industrial collaborations to give a practical aspect to my work.
What are you currently working on?
I do research into electric vehicle drive trains, with a focus on multi-level power electronic converters. These would be the electronics responsible for converting the DC battery power into usable AC drive power. To compliment this research, I’m working with an electric vehicle company in Vancouver, Future Vehicle Technologies – the last purely Canadian competitor left in the progressive X-prize challenge. We’re not only looking at optimizing their current drive train from the power electronics’ perspective, but
potentially re-engineering the entire drive-system, including the motor. There’s a lot stuff that hasn’t been done in terms of electric vehicle drive systems just because it was such a niche area for a long time, but now has potential due to the renewed interest in electric vehicles and decreasing semiconductor costs.
You worked in industry for a year before coming back to do your PhD. Why the change?
I worked for RMS Welding Systems as a design engineer, dealing mostly in the software end of the embedded systems for their line of orbital welding products for pipelines. It’s a really wonderful place to work, but there was a recession and I had really wanted to do a PhD my whole life, so I just decided that it was a perfect opportunity for such a thing. Dr.Salmon had also been in contact with me throughout my time in industry, and he kept me in the loop about some of the upcoming research projects that I could be a part of, so I really felt like it was the right time to start my PhD.
I also really felt that a research engineering position would be a wonderful career. I absolutely enjoy every aspect of research, and I really felt that with a PhD in ECE, I could really go anywhere in the world and have a good shot at a career, whether in pure research or in a specific engineering position.
What are your plans for when you’re done your PhD?
Tough to say. Depends where the economy is at when I graduate, but I’d like to work in industry; one of the green-tech places.
Any advice for future graduate students in ECE?
I suggest just going with what you’re interested in, and everything else will kind of work itself out.