IEEE depends on volunteer members for many things, including organizing conferences, coordinating regional and local activities, writing standards, and deciding on IEEE’s future.
But because the organization can be complex, many members don’t know what resources and roles are available to them, and they might need training on how to lead groups. That’s why in 2013, the IEEE Member and Geographic Activities board established its Volunteer Leadership Program. VoLT, an MGA program, provides members with resources and an overview of IEEE, including its culture and mission. The program also offers participants training to help them gain management and leadership skills. Each participant is paired with a mentor to provide guidance, advice, and support.
Program specialist for IEEE’s Volunteer User Experience Stephen Torpie and long-time volunteer and Life Member Marc Apter discuss the benefits of the VoLT program with visitors to the exhibit booth at IEEE Sections Congress.Stephen Torpie
VoLT, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, has grown steadily since its launch. In its first year, the program had 49 applicants and 19 graduates. Now nearly 500 members from all 10 IEEE regions and 165 sections have completed the program. This year the program received 306 applications, and it accepted 70 students to participate in the next six-month session.
“When I first got on the Board of Directors, I didn’t realize all the complexities of the organization, so I thought it would be helpful to provide a broad background for others to help them understand IEEE’s larger objectives,” says Senior Member Loretta Arellano, the mastermind behind VoLT. “The program was developed so that volunteers can quickly learn the IEEE structure and obtain leadership skills unique to a volunteer organization.
“IEEE is such a large organization, and typically members get involved with just one aspect and are never exposed to the rest of IEEE. They don’t realize there are a whole lot of resources and people to help them.”
Soft skills training and mentorship
Before applying to VoLT, members are required to take 10 courses that provide them with a comprehensive introduction to IEEE. The free courses are available on the IEEE Center for Leadership Excellence website.
Along with their application, members must include a reference letter from an IEEE volunteer.
“The VoLT program taught me how expansive IEEE’s network and offerings are,” says Moriah Hargrove Anders, an IEEE graduate student member who participated in the program in 2017. “The knowledge [I gained] has guided the leadership I take back to my section.”
“IEEE is such a large organization, and typically members get involved with just one aspect and are never exposed to the rest of IEEE. They don’t realize there are a whole lot of resources and people to help them.” —Loretta Arellano
Program mentors are active IEEE volunteers and have held leadership positions in the organization. Six of the 19 mentors from the program’s first year are still participating in VoLT. Of the 498 graduates, 205 have been a mentor at least once.
VoLT participants complete a team project, in which they identify a problem, a need, an opportunity, or an area of improvement within their local organizational unit or the global IEEE. Then they develop a business plan to address the concern. Each team presents a video highlighting its business plan to VoLT’s mentors, who evaluate the plans and select the three strongest. The three plans are sent to each individual’s IEEE region director and section leader to consider for implementation.
“The VoLT program helped me to reaffirm and expand my knowledge about IEEE,” Lizeth Vega Medina says. The IEEE senior member graduated from the program in 2019. “It also taught me how to manage situations as a volunteer.”
Each year, the program makes improvements based on feedback from students and the MGA board.
To acknowledge its anniversary, VoLT offered an exhibit booth in August at the IEEE Sections Congress in Ottawa. The event, held every three years, brings together IEEE leaders and volunteers from around the world. Recent VoLT graduates presented their team’s project. Videos of the sessions are available on IEEE.tv.
An engineer at Google for more than 20 years, Barroso is credited with designing the company’s warehouse-size data centers. They house hundreds of thousands of computer servers and disk drives and have brought cloud computing, more powerful search engines, and faster Internet service. He died unexpectedly of natural causes.
In 1995 he joined the Digital Equipment Corp.Western Research Laboratory, in Palo Alto, Calif., as a researcher specializing in microprocessor design. While there, he investigated how to build hardware to run more modern business applications and Web services. Three years later, the company was acquired by Compaq and his project was terminated.
He left Compaq in 2001 to join Google in Mountain View, Calif., as a software engineer.
The company housed its servers at leased space in third-party data centers, which were basically cages in which a few racks of computing equipment were placed. As Google’s business expanded, its need for infrastructure increased. In 2004 Barroso was tasked with investigating ways to build more efficient data centers.
He devised a way to use low-cost components and energy-saving techniques to distribute Google’s programs across thousands of servers, instead of the traditional method of relying on a few powerful, expensive machines.
The company’s first data center designed by Barroso opened in 2006 in The Dalles, Ore. It implemented fault-tolerance software and hardware infrastructure to make the servers less prone to disruption. Google now has 35 data centers in 10 countries, all drawing from Barroso’s groundbreaking techniques.
He also led the team that designed Google’s AI chips, known as tensor processing units or TPUs, which accelerated machine-learning workloads. He helped integrate augmented reality and machine learning into Google Maps.
At the time of his death, Barroso was a Google Fellow, the company’s highest rank for technical staff.
He also was an executive sponsor of the company’s Hispanic and Latinx employee group and oversaw a program that awarded fellowships to doctoral students in Latin America.
He served on the board of Rainforest Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting tropical lands and conserving threatened wildlife. Just weeks before he died, Barroso organized and led a weeklong trip to Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands.
Former director of the Indian Statistical Institute
Honorary member, 102; died 23 August
Rao was onetime director of the Indian Statistical Institute, in Kolkata. The pioneering mathematician and statistician spent more than four decades at the organization, where he discovered two seminal estimators: the Cramér–Rao bound and the Rao–Blackwell theorem. The two estimators—rules for calculating an estimate of a given quantity based on observed data—provided the basis for much of modern statistics.
For his discoveries, Rao received the 2023 International Prize in Statistics. The award is presented every two years to an individual or team for “major achievements using statistics to advance science, technology, and human welfare.”
Rao began his career in 1943 as a technical apprentice at the Indian Statistical Institute. He was promoted the following year to superintending statistician. Two years later, he published a paper in the Bulletin of the Calcutta Mathematical Society, demonstrating two fundamental statistical concepts still heavily used in the field today. The Cramér-Rao bound helps statisticians determine the quality of any estimation method. The Rao-Blackwell theorem provides a means for optimizing estimates.
Rao’s work formed the basis of information geometry, an interdisciplinary field that applies the techniques of differential geometry to study probability theory and statistics.
Rao was a professor at the ISI’s research and training school before being promoted to director in 1964—a position he held for 12 years.
He moved to the United States in the 1980s to join the University of Pittsburgh as a professor of mathematics and statistics. He left Pittsburgh eight years later to teach at Pennsylvania State University in State College, where in 2001 he became director of its multivariate analysis center. Multivariate statistics are data analysis procedures that simultaneously consider more than two variables.
After nine years at Penn State he moved to New York, where he was a research professor at the University of Buffalo until shortly before he died.
Rao authored more than 14 books and 400 journal articles during his career. He received several awards for his lifetime contributions, including 38 honorary doctoral degrees from universities in 19 countries.
In 2010 he was honored with the India Science Award, the highest honor given by the government of India in the scientific sector. He received the 2002 U.S. National Medal of Science, the country’s highest award for lifetime achievement in scientific research.
In 1958 he left to join Airborne Instruments Laboratory, a defense contractor in Mineola, N.Y. At AIL, he was involved in electronic warfare systems R&D. He later was promoted to head of the analysis receiver department, and he led the development of UHF and microwave intercept analysis receivers for the U.S. Army.
He accepted a new position in 1970 as head of the advanced development department in the Amecom Division of Litton Industries, a defense contractor in College Park, Md. He helped develop technology at Litton to intercept and analyze radar signals, including the AN/ALR-59 (later the AN/ALR-73) passive detection system for the U.S. NavyE-2 Hawkeye aircraft.
By 1974, he was promoted to head of the laboratory’s electronic warfare systems branch, leading research in areas including advanced miniature antenna and receiver programs, intelligence collection and processing systems, and high-speed signal sorting.
In 1987 he was promoted to associate superintendent of the Tactical Electronic Warfare Division, a position he held until he retired in 1995.
Randall W. Pack
Nuclear and computer engineer
Life member, 82; died 2 December 2022
Pack was a nuclear power engineer until the late 1990s, when he shifted his focus to computer engineering.
Park decided to switch careers and at night took graduate courses at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore. After graduating in 1997 with a master’s degree in computer science, he left General Physics and became a computer science consultant. He retired in 2008.
After Vic Wintriss sold his sports-imaging company, Wintriss Engineering, to his cofounders in 2006, the electrical engineer was looking for a project to keep himself busy. Wintriss Engineering, based in San Diego, makes smart cameras for sports imaging such as tracking golf balls and inspecting paper, textiles, and plastics. While discussing with his wife what his next career move should be, an idea suddenly came to him in the form of a vision.
“I’ll never forget it,” Wintriss recalls. “It said: ‘You’re going to teach Java to kids in a nonprofit school.’ I didn’t even know Java.”
At the age of 75 he went back to school to learn the programming language. After teaching the subject to teenagers at his church, in 2006 the IEEE life member established The League of Amazing Programmers. The San Diego–based nonprofit after-school program teaches coding in Java and Python to students in Grades 5 to 12. The program offers 10 levels of coding, from beginner to advanced. It is the only one in the United States that awards the Oracle professional programming certificate to high school students.
“It was a privilege to recognize The League of Amazing Programmers for the critical work they are doing in my district to promote equity in our digital age,” Boerner said in a news release about the recognition. “Their dedication to helping our youth, especially girls and underrepresented communities, is transforming lives throughout San Diego.”
Java, Python, and game design
Wintriss, who is now 92, had some prior teaching experience. He was a Navy flight instructor and taught Sunday school classes for several years. To start fulfilling the Java vision he had, he began holding coding classes at the church. The course became so popular that he rented a larger space and bought more computers. Wintriss continued on his own until, he says, it became overwhelming.
That’s when he launched The League of Amazing Programmers. He retained professional programmers who volunteered their time to teach 90-minute weekly in-person and virtual classes seven days a week. The school’s monthly tuition is US $260, and tuition assistance is available.
This year 200 students are participating in the program. About half of them are from underserved communities, Wintriss says.
“The students who have completed the program have been amazing. The computer programs they write are just totally incredible.” —Vic Wintriss
“The students who have completed the program have been amazing,” Wintriss says. “The computer programs they write are just totally incredible.”
The league’s students put their skills to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. They were taught how to design a low-cost emergency ventilator system using a Raspberry Pi computer and automated versions of manual bag-based resuscitator devices, commonly known as Ambu bags. The compact, balloonlike bags have a soft air reservoir that can be squeezed by medical professionals to inflate a patient’s lungs.
Oracle certification success
More than 50 students have passed the Oracle Professional Programming Certificate exam, which is not easy for a high school student, Wintriss says. Students who take the exam are typically in the 11th grade.
Once students earn the certification, they can garner a high salary, Wintriss says.
“If you’ve got the Oracle certificate, any employer will hire you as a programmer without a college degree, although we encourage our students to go to college,” he says.
Some students have gotten part-time after-school programming jobs that pay about $60 per hour, he says. Former students who have landed a full-time job have told him they are earning more than $100,000 annually.
Wintriss says he hopes to expand the program to other states.
A student testimonial
Sam Sharp has completed the after-school program’s Java course and plans to take the Oracle certificate exam. Vic Wintriss
One student who is attending the after-school program is 15-year-old Sam Sharp, an 11th grader at San Diego High School. His parents signed him up for the program when he was 8.
“I’ve always been interested in computers,” Sharp says. “I’ve had this idea to make things that people are going to use in their daily lives. I figured that because everybody now does everything on their computers, I wanted to learn how to make things for computers.”
Sharp is at the Level 8 stage and has completed the Java course.
He says the league’s program has taught him other skills such as creating a project from scratch, meeting deadlines, pacing himself, and leading teams. He also helps teach younger students the programming languages.
What appeals to him the most about the league’s curriculum, he says, is its “five seconds of fun” principle.
“The concept,” he says, “is that students should get five seconds of just pure fun from what they’ve made or programmed.”
He says he intends to take the Oracle certificate exam, and he plans to pursue a college degree in computer programming.
The XeroxPalo Alto Research Center in California has spawned many pioneering computer technologies including the Alto—the first personal computer to use a graphical user interface—and the first laser printer.
The PARC facility also is known for the invention of Ethernet, a networking technology that allows high-speed data transmission over coaxial cables. Ethernet has become the standard wired local area network around the world, and it is widely used in businesses and homes. It was honored this year as an IEEE Milestone, a half century after it was born.
Connecting PARC’s Alto computers
Ethernet’s development began in 1973, when Charles P. Thacker—who was working on the design of the Alto computer—envisioned a network that would allow Altos to communicate with each other, as well as with laser printers and with PARC’s gateway to the ARPANET. PARC researcher Robert M. Metcalfe, an IEEE Fellow, took on the challenge of creating the technology. Metcalfe soon was joined by computer scientist David Boggs.
Metcalfe and Boggs had two criteria: The network had to be fast enough to support their laser printer, and it had to connect hundreds of computers within the same building.
The Ethernet design was inspired by the Additive Links On-line Hawaii Area network (ALOHAnet), a radio-based system at the University of Hawai’i. Computers transmitted packets, prefaced by the addresses of the recipients, over a shared channel as soon as they had information to send. If two messages collided, the computers that had sent them would wait a random interval and try again.
Metcalfe outlined his proposal, then called the Alto Aloha Network, in a now-famous memo to his colleagues. Using coaxial cables rather than radio waves would allow faster transmission of data and limit interference. The cables also meant that users could join or exit the network without having to shut off the entire system, Metcalfe said in a 2004 oral history conducted by the IEEE History Center.
“There was something called a cable television tap, which allows one to tap into a coax without cutting it,” Metcalfe said. “Therefore, [Boggs and I] chose coax as our means of communication. In [the] memo, I described the principles of operation—very distributed, no central control, a single piece of ‘ether.’”
Metcalfe and Boggs designed the first version of what is now known as Ethernet in 1973. It sent data at up to 2.94 megabits per second and was “fast enough to feed the laser printer and easy to send through the coax,” Metcalfe told the IEEE History Center.
A 9.5-millimeter thick and stiff coaxial cable was laid in the middle of a hall in the PARC building. The 500-meter cable had 100 transceiver nodes attached to it with N connectors, known as vampire taps. Each of the taps—small boxes with a hard shell—had two probes that “bit” through the cable’s outer insulation to contact its copper core. Thus new nodes could be added while existing connections were live.
Each vampire tap had a D-type connector socket in it, consisting of a plug with nine pins that matched to a socket with nine jacks. The sockets allowed Alto computers, printers, and file servers to attach to the network.
To enable the devices to communicate, Metcalfe and Boggs created the first high-speed network interface card (NIC)—a circuit board that is connected to a computer’s motherboard. It included what is now known as an Ethernet port.
The researchers changed the name from the original Alto Aloha Network to Ethernet to make it clearer that the system could support any computer. It reflected a comment Thacker had made early on, that “coaxial cable is nothing but captive ether,” PARC researcher Alan Kayrecalled.
Metcalfe, Boggs, Thacker, and Butler W. Lampson were granted a U.S. patent in 1978 for their invention.
They continued to develop the technology and, in 1980, PARC released Ethernet that ran at 10 Mb/s. The update was done in collaboration with researchers at Intel and the Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) to create a version of Ethernet for broad industry use, according to the Milestone entry.
Becoming an IEEE standard
Ethernet became commercially available in 1980 and quickly grew into the industry LAN standard. To provide computer companies with a framework for the technology, in June 1983 Ethernet was adopted as a standard by the IEEE 802 Local Area Network Standards Committee.
Currently, the IEEE 802 family consists of 67 published standards, with 49 projects under development. The committee works with standards agencies worldwide to publish certain IEEE 802 standards as international guidelines.
A plaque recognizing the technology is displayed outside the PARC facility. It reads:
Ethernet wired LAN was invented at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in 1973, inspired by the ALOHAnet packet radio network and the ARPANET. In 1980 Xerox, DEC, and Intel published a specification for 10 Mbps Ethernet over coaxial cable that became the IEEE 802.3-1985 Standard. Later augmented for higher speeds, and twisted-pair, optical, and wireless media, Ethernet became ubiquitous in home, commercial, industrial, and academic settings worldwide.
Administered by the IEEE History Center and supported by donors, the Milestone program recognizes outstanding technical developments around the world.
Open to all interested technology enthusiasts, the event is centered on the theme of Evolution: Technology, Applications, and Contributions. The conference is expected to bring together technology professionals from across the globe to explore emerging technologies and how they impact senior citizens.
IEEE life members are technology innovators and pioneers, working together to mentor students, participate in educational excursions, and improve their communities. The life member designation is for those who have reached the age of 65 and have been with IEEE for such a period of time that the sum of their age and their years of membership equals or exceeds 100.
“Because IEEE life members come from all IEEE’s fields of interest and are loaded with many years of experience, we can provide an engaging conference for all ages,” says Life Member Kirpal Singh Khalsa, one of the event’s two communications cochairs.
“We want to empower and equip attendees with the knowledge and insights necessary to navigate the transformative landscape of technological advancements—deepening their understanding of how emerging technologies will shape their lives,” adds Senior Life Member Terry Branch, conference vice chair.
“Our hope is to capture the wealth of experiences from IEEE life members and provide them an opportunity to continue to contribute to the profession that has been an integral part of their lives.” —Maxine Cohen
The event will include engaging talks, interactive workshops, and panel discussions with experts from a wide variety of technology fields, organizers say, adding that speakers will share their insights and experiences, providing valuable lessons and inspiration. Scheduled speakers include Life Fellow Rodney Brooks, Senior Member Whurley, and Life Fellow John McDonald.
“Conference attendees will also have the opportunity to interact with company representatives and speakers to contribute to the design of the next generation of products and services that will be offered to senior citizens,” says Senior Life Member Mike Andrews, the conference chair. “We embrace the fact that learning never stops, that we can continue to make a difference and remain active participants in life and technology.”
Senior Life Member Maxine Cohen, the conference’s other communications cochair, adds, “Our hope is to capture the wealth of experiences from IEEE life members and provide them an opportunity to continue to contribute to the profession that has been an integral part of their lives. The conference will provide time to listen, chat, and connect with speakers, peers, and other professionals.”
Austin is home to cutting-edge technology companies, and tours are planned for conference attendees and their guests. Cohen is designing a companion program for attendees’ guests.
Back in 2005, before smartphones were generally available, MIT Professor Hari Balakrishnan was so fed up with commuting delays in Boston that he built a mobile system to monitor road conditions.
Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and the University of California, Berkeley
He and his research team at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory developed CarTel, short for car telematics. Using signal processing and machine learning, their sensing device for vehicles was able to infer the presence of potholes and other impediments from changes in traffic flow, which it measured with GPS and an accelerometer. Their research won several awards, and the system was covered by The Boston Globe.
In 2010 Balakrishnan and two cofounders commercialized CarTel by launching Cambridge Mobile Telematics. Today the Massachusetts company is the largest telematics service provider in the world. Insurance companies, car manufacturers, rideshare services, and public agencies use CMT data to assess driver behavior, encourage safer driving, dispatch roadside assistance, and more.
Balakrishnan, an IEEE Fellow, is this year’s Marconi Prize winner for his “fundamental discoveries in mobile sensing, networking, and distributed systems.” The award, given by the Marconi Society, is considered to be the top honor in communications.
“On paper this award honors me, but it really is a recognition of my 30-plus Ph.D. students, postdocs, collaborators, and the team at CMT who have worked incredibly hard in creative ways to take research ideas and have them really impact the world,” he says. “It honors the field of mobile sensing and networked systems.”
Hari Balakrishnan talks to the Marconi Society about his career highlights and his thoughts on receiving the prize. Marconi Society
Using data to make driving safer
Balakrishnan came up with the idea for CarTel while talking with fellow MIT Professor Samuel Madden, a director of the university’s Data Systems and AI Lab and an expert on data management and sensor computing.
“I told him we should start a research project that takes sensors that we both know a lot about, attach them to cars, measure what’s happening, and then try to understand the data,” Balakrishnan recalls. “This was before iPhones, Androids, and Google Maps.”
They later founded CMT, with Madden serving as its chief scientist.
“CarTel was one of the first projects in mobile sensing,” Balakrishnan says. “We showed that it could work at scale.
“I was trying to figure out how to commercialize it using the notion of mobile sensing for social good.”
Help came in 2009 from William V. Powers, a seasoned sales executive who became Balakrishnan’s business partner. He is also a CMT cofounder and the company’s CEO.
Balakrishnan says that although the startup had the technology, it didn’t have a business model. After reading articles about how insurance companies were using expensive hardware to measure people’s driving to set premium prices and uncover fraudulent claims, they found their model.
“Our mission is to make the world’s roads and drivers safer.”
“It clicked in my head that we had shown, in principle, how to do that with consumer phones and inexpensive Internet of Things [IoT] devices that could be put into a car without professional installers,” he says.
That early system evolved into DriveWell, an AI-driven platform that gathers data from monitors including accelerometers, gyroscopes, and position sensors in smartphones, dashcams, and IoT devices such as the DriveWell Tag.
The platform combines the information with contextual data to create a picture of how drivers are operating their vehicles, measuring factors such as hard braking, excessive speeding, and phone distraction, Balakrishnan says.
“Our mission is to make the world’s roads and drivers safer,” he says.
DriveWell has provided services to more than 30 million vehicles to date. Insurance companies including Admiral, Discovery, HUK-Coburg, MS&AD, and USAA use CMT’s programs to offer discounts to better drivers. CMT recently partnered with Hyundai to offer its customers real-time roadside assistance and repair services. There are also DriveWell, FuelStar, and Openroad mobile apps for motorists who want feedback about their driving.
The first indoor location system
Balakrishnan has created other systems that use sensors for practical purposes. Between 1999 and 2004, he oversaw the development of the Cricket indoor location system. It combined radio frequency and ultrasound technologies. Beacons mounted on walls and ceilings publish information on an RF channel, which sends out a chirping signal. The beacon then sounds out a corresponding ultrasonic pulse. Receivers attached to mobile devices listen for the RF signals and the ultrasonic pulse. Cricket uses the different speeds of sound and of RF to calculate the distance between the receiver and the beacon.
The system provided space identifiers, position coordinates, and orientation. Cricket provided distance ranging and positioning precision of between 3 and 5 centimeters. It was used in areas where GPS didn’t work well, such as hospitals, office buildings, and research centers.
“GPS only works outdoors,” Balakrishnan says. “Even today, you can’t get GPS signals inside. When your apps show you the location inside, it’s using other technologies.”
The research team open-sourced the hardware and software, and more than 1 million units were built and deployed.
“This approach didn’t scale to every device in the world,” Balakrishnan says, “because adding ultrasonic hardware to every device is not practical. However, with modern smartphones capable of sending and receiving ultrasonic signals on their speakers and microphones, the approach developed in Cricket might become useful in the future. Indeed, some recent proposals for contact tracing for COVID-19 have used this approach.”
This year’s IEEE Medal of Honor recipient Vint Cerf congratulates Marconi Prize winner Hari Balakrishnan at the Marconi Awards Gala, held on 27 October in Washington, D.C.Marconi Society
A love of research and academia
Balakrishnan earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1993 from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He picked the field, he says, because he thought it would let him make practical use of mathematics.
“I knew nothing about computer science,” he says. “I had never programmed a computer before. But I knew I was interested in things that were mathematical in nature, and I enjoyed both math and physics greatly. After about a year and a half, I felt like I understood what the field was about. By the time I finished my undergraduate degree, I absolutely loved it.”
While pursuing a Ph.D. in computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, he became passionate about conducting research, he says. He enjoyed it so much, he says, that he wanted to make a career of it.
In the final year of his Ph.D., in 1998, he decided to pursue an academic career. He interviewed for a faculty position at MIT and knew immediately it was where he wanted to work, he says. The university hired him that year, and he has worked there ever since.
“I felt like this was the place where people were on the same wavelength as me,” he says. “It’s always good to go to a place where people appreciate what you do.”
Despite his entrepreneurial success, Balakrishnan continues to teach.
“I just really enjoy working with students and just love research,” he says. “I enjoy teaching students and, frankly, they teach me as much as I teach them.”
The IEEE community
Balakrishnan says he intially joined IEEE as a student to get the discounted rate for membership and conference registrations. But after he began working, he realized that it’s important to be part of a “professional community that has like-minded people who care about the fields that I care about,” he says. “IEEE has benefited my career because I’ve been at conferences and events where I’ve made professional connections that will last a lifetime.”
This story was originally published by Capital & Main and was republished with permission.
With the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act last year, Congress and the administration of President Joe Biden made a colossal bet on nascent massive-scale technological solutions to the climate change crisis.
Together, the laws dedicated more than $100 billion to atmospheric carbon reduction, including grants, loans and tax credits for renewable energy projects; hydrogen hubs; electric vehicle fleets; and carbon capture, utilization and sequestration, or CCUS. (Some prefer a simpler phrase: carbon capture, use and storage.)
It’s that last category that has excited politicians in hydrocarbon-rich Texas because it involves cashing in on a new round of federal subsidies to scale up an activity that oil producers have already been doing for a long time: pumping liquefied carbon gas into the ground.
With expanded federal tax credits for CCUS up for grabs, Texas wants to become the “global leader in carbon capture and sequestration,” in the words of state Sen. Kelly Hancock, a Republican who represents Tarrant County. But environmental advocates say the motivation of politicians like Hancock has nothing to do with fighting global warming and everything to do with harnessing federal incentives to drive a boom in industrial growth.
For decades, producers have been injecting liquefied carbon gas and other fluids deep underground in order to re-pressurize aging oil wells. The practice is called secondary recovery, or enhanced oil recovery, which enables a company to squeeze the last drops out of a nearly depleted well — like pumping up a nearly empty Super Soaker. Enhanced oil recovery is the primary “U” in the CCUS acronym. Producers claim that hydrocarbons produced using the technique are “net zero,” based on the controversial assumption that the carbon going into the ground — and, theoretically, remaining trapped there — cancels out whatever carbon emissions result from burning the extracted fuels.
The new federal incentives prioritize CCUS projects that would remove carbon gases from ambient air in an as-yet-unproven process called direct air capture and from major emissions sources, including power plants and industrial facilities, known as point-source capture. In either case, beneficiaries will need to guarantee permanent geological storage of captured carbon, either through enhanced oil recovery or through sequestration in special injection wells bored into saline formations thousands of feet under the Earth’s surface.
The scale of the Biden administration’s investment in CCUS is historic, but federal subsidies for the industry have been around for well over a decade. Congress created the 45Q tax credit in 2008 to spur investment in carbon storage as part of a multipronged effort to combat man-made climate change. Projects eligible for 45Q credits include Class VI wells — the ones used for carbon dioxide injection and permanent geologic storage in deep underground saline formations — and Class II wells used for enhanced oil recovery.
In the first decade of the 45Q program, the CCUS industry struggled to get off the ground. Congress boosted the dollar-per-ton amount of the 45Q credit in 2018, and then, in 2022, the program received a major shot in the arm with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. Along with hiking up the value of the 45Q credit, the act drastically lowered eligibility requirements — reducing the volume of captured carbon at a qualifying facility by as much as 96 percent.
Expansion of the 45Q credit and lowering the bar to entry triggered “a bonanza around carbon removal,” according to Tara Righetti, Occidental Chair of Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Wyoming. The act also gave billions to the Department of Energy to use for loans for CCUS projects and other clean energy initiatives.
“Project developers are clamouring to respond to U.S. Department of Energy Funding Opportunity Announcements, tie up injection rights, and secure injection permits,” Righetti said in a January 2023 blog post. “In response, states have moved forward with efforts to assume regulatory authority for carbon sequestration and secure primacy for Class VI injection wells.”
The main difference between Class VI and Class II injection wells comes down to whether a well is used for permanent geologic carbon sequestration (Class VI) or some other purpose, such as wastewater disposal, enhanced oil recovery or temporary hydrocarbon storage (Class II). Primacy, as Righetti described it, refers to federally delegated regulatory authority over a category of injection wells. Class VI wells fall under the authority of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which is meant to safeguard underground sources of drinking water, and are consequently subject to stricter siting and construction regulations than Class II wells. At present, the Texas Railroad Commission — the state’s oil and gas regulator, which has had no jurisdiction over railroads since 2005 — has primacy over Class II injection wells, but the EPA retains authority over Class VI wells.
Under the IRA’s expansion of 45Q, permanent geologic storage projects qualify for a significantly larger credit ($85 per ton) than utilization projects, including enhanced oil recovery ($60 per ton). Direct air capture projects, which remove ambient CO2 directly from the atmosphere, can receive $180 per ton for geologically stored CO2 and $130 per ton for captured and utilized CO2. In order to unlock the highest tiers of 45Q credits for permanent geologic storage and for direct air capture projects, Texas-based operators will need to drill many Class VI wells. But there’s a snag: The commission may still be years away from securing Class VI primacy, and the EPA’s own Class VI permitting timelines are glacial.
Nationwide, the EPA has approved just two Class VI facilities since the program began in 2010, and there are currently 109 applications in the backlog. Only two states, Wyoming and North Dakota, have secured Class VI primacy from the EPA. (Louisiana may receive primacy by the end of 2023.) That means the most remunerative tiers of the 45Q program are essentially blocked off by regulatory red tape. At present, any company that wants to build a Class VI facility in Texas faces a potentially yearslong federal permitting process.
Betting on the future boom in carbon capture projects, and eager to shorten permitting timelines, Texas is pressing ahead with its application to regulate Class VI wells by itself. The Railroad Commission has finished the pre-application phase for Class VI primacy and is awaiting EPA review before moving on to the formal application phase. “We hope our program will be able to streamline the process and allow for the timely issuing of Class VI permits,” Railroad Commission chief geologist Leslie Savage said in a July hearing.
Environmental advocates say the commission has not been a responsible regulator of the Class II program and should not be trusted with Class VI primacy. “If anybody is going to be permitting this kind of activity, it ought to be the EPA, and it’s OK if the EPA is moving slowly,” said Virginia Palacios, executive director of Commission Shift, in a recent webinar about carbon capture. Commission Shift is a Laredo, Texas-based watchdog organization focused on reforming the Railroad Commission.
All of the 45Q tiers are intended to mitigate climate change. But in hearings about CCUS-related bills in the 2023 legislative session, politicians like Hancock “did not talk about climate change,” Palacios said. “They did not talk about the need for us to address extreme weather as a result of climate change, or biodiversity loss, or impacts on low income communities on the coast,” she said. “They talked about wanting to be able to compete and sell gas to Europe and make lots of money. Many of them talked about trying to make sure that CO2 never gets regulated as a pollutant and that there’s never a limit on CO2.”
It is a Texas-sized irony that billions in federal funds earmarked for fighting climate change may end up going to the same oil and gas companies whose future depends on the survival of a carbon-intensive global economy. Those funds stand to benefit a state with a governor, Greg Abbott, who refuses to use the phrase “climate change,” and with an oil and gas regulatory agency run by elected commissioners whose campaign coffers are stuffed with industry money, who have flirted with climate change denial and who have threatened to sue the federal government over attempts to regulate methane.
But for all their hostility to climate mitigation, greenhouse gas regulation, and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) policies at home, these powerful Texas politicians know that certain image adjustments will be necessary for the industry to remain attractive to climate-conscious investors and foreign customers with increasingly strict clean energy policies.
The potential for explosive growth in the CCUS sector — fueled by federal incentives — could be the silver bullet they’ve been looking for: Expanding the CCUS sector to include enhanced oil recovery, which will help companies market their products as “net zero.”
There are at least two potential growth markets in CCUS that have politicians and industry players seeing dollar signs. The first is point-source carbon capture, which involves an industrial facility — a coal-burning power plant, for example — scrubbing a certain percentage of carbon directly from its stacks. The second is direct air capture, an unproven massive-scale technology that involves pulling ambient carbon from the atmosphere. In both cases, the captured carbon could be stored permanently underground or transported by truck or pipeline to another facility for storage or use in enhanced oil recovery or another industrial application. Environmentalists fear that companies could use 45Q credits to refine new and potentially lucrative technology, greenwash their images, and increase their profit margins at taxpayer expense, all without scaling back hydrocarbon production.
The projected size of the future CCUS market is enormous. Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, which is currently pursuing two DAC projects in Texas under a subsidiary called 1PointFive, estimates the CCUS industry will grow to $50 billion a year by 2030; ExxonMobil puts the figure at $4 trillion by 2050. As the nation’s largest oil and gas producers, Texas fossil fuel companies are well-positioned to tap into the windfall of 45Q credits delivered by the Inflation Reduction Act. There are already tens of thousands of Class II wells in the state, and the reduced barrier to entry will make 45Q a lifeline to smaller companies that might want to use enhanced oil recovery to prolong the viability of their currently producing wells.
As a map produced by Rice University’s Baker Institute shows, the deep underground geology of Texas is ideal for carbon storage, with saline aquifer and salt dome formations stretching across the Permian Basin from the Panhandle to the Mexican border and all the way down the Texas-Louisiana border, along the Gulf of Mexico and clear across the Eagle Ford Shale formation to the Rio Grande Valley. Oil and gas companies have already been injecting CO2 and fluids into smaller Class II wells for enhanced oil recovery and waste disposal in Texas for decades — and it’s the Railroad Commission’s light touch with regard to holding companies accountable for leaks, spills, and earthquakes related to those Class II wells that has environmentalists worried.
Commission Shift has published extensive reporting on the commission’s failure to adequately address the state’s constantly swelling list of orphaned, abandoned and inactive oil and gas wells, some of which are leaking vast quantities of contaminated water onto the surface or into adjacent groundwater reservoirs. The Environmental Defense Fund and Earthworks have repeatedly reported on the agency’s deficient approach to wasteful methane venting and flaring, despite having rules about when flaring is permissible and when it isn’t.
Palacios also expressed concern about commissioners’ recent approval of permits for new injection wells over the recommendations of staffers charged with carrying out technical review of the applications. Commission examiners had found that Oklahoma City-based company Lagoon Water Management, which was seeking approval to drill Class II waste disposal wells in Dawson County, “failed to prove the Proposed Disposal Wells are in the public interest,” because, according to the review, there was already sufficient disposal capacity in the area. Piñon Operating, an oil and gas producer with active wells in the same area where Lagoon wanted to put its wells, protested Lagoon’s applications on the grounds that additional disposal capacity was not needed, and that overpressurizing the affected formation could lead to migrations of fluids and hydrogen sulfide gas that could “cause higher drilling costs, loss of well bores, and ultimately, wasted oil and gas reserves.”
At a September 14 hearing, following a motion from Commissioner Wayne Christian, the commissioners rejected the examiners’ recommendations and approved Lagoon’s applications. Piñon Operating has filed a motion for a rehearing.
Asked for comment on the Lagoon permits, a spokesperson told Capital & Main that the commission “cannot comment on cases that are pending a final decision.”
Palacios said the commissioners’ decision to override the agency’s own examiners is something the EPA should take into consideration as it evaluates the state’s Class VI primacy application. “The EPA needs to understand that even if RRC’s technical staff seems like it will understand and seek to follow the Class VI CO2 injection well precautions,” Palacios said, “we have evidence that the railroad commissioners will disregard those recommendations and put Texas drinking water at risk.”
The IEEE Ethics and Member Conduct Committee (EMCC) received a complaint against Dr. Peng Zhang, a member in the grade of Senior Member of the IEEE. A hearing board appointed by the IEEE Board of Directors found Cause that Dr. Zhang violated Section II, Subsection 8 of the IEEE Code of Ethics. The IEEE Board of Directors sustained these findings and imposed the sanction of a five-year suspension from IEEE membership on Dr. Zhang, in accordance with IEEE Bylaw I-110.5. The IEEE Board of Directors also determined that this notification to the IEEE membership should be made. For identification purposes only, Dr. Zhang has past affiliations with a university in the state of Connecticut and, as of the date of this notice, current affiliation with a university in the state of New York.
Azad M. Madni spent some 40 years working on artificial intelligence and simulation technologies that allowed U.S. soldiers to safely train for combat operations in virtual worlds. Now Madni—a professor of astronautics, aerospace, and mechanical engineering at the University of Southern California—is working to transform engineering education. But he hasn’t abandoned the world of simulation.
University of Southern California, in Los Angeles
Professor of astronautics, aerospace, and mechanical engineering
IEEE Life Fellow
University of California, Los Angeles
In 2013 the IEEE Life Fellow created the Transdisciplinary Systems Engineering Education (TRASEE) paradigm, in which professors use simulation software to teach topics through storytelling and role-playing techniques, allowing students to apply their engineering lessons to real-world situations.
For that and other “pioneering contributions to model-based systems engineering, education, and industrial impact using interdisciplinary approaches,” Madni received this year’s IEEE Simon Ramo Medal.
Ramo was a leader in microwave research who headed the development of General Electric’s electron microscope. Ramo served as a presidential chair and professor of electrical engineering at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering from 2008 until he died in 2016.
Madni says the award is “the crowning achievement” of his career as a systems engineer. It’s particularly special to him, he says, because he and Ramo were colleagues at USC.
From NASA to teaching at USC
Madni, who grew up in Mumbai, became captivated by the U.S. space program after listening to the 1962 “We choose to go to the moon” speech delivered by John F. Kennedy at Rice University, in Houston. The president’s speech was designed to bolster public support for his proposal to land a man on the moon before 1970.
Madni, who knew he wanted to become an engineer, decided he wanted to be part of the “space adventure,” he says.
He moved to the United States to pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles. Finding himself drawn to systems engineering after taking a UCLA class in the field, he decided to merge his new interest with his passion for space.
After graduating in 1968, Madni joined Parsons Corp. in Los Angeles as a full-time systems engineer and analyst working on defense programs. At night, he took graduate courses at UCLA, and in 1971 he earned his master’s degree in engineering.
He went on to pursue a Ph.D. while also working full-time at Rockwell International’s space division in Downey, Calif., as a simulation systems engineer.
At the time, the company was the prime contractor for NASA’s space shuttle program. Working on the program was a dream come true, he says.
He developed a model-based analysis program to virtually test the performance of the shuttle’s navigation system. He also led the creation of a simulation program that analyzed the navigation system’s performance under different high-stress conditions. Madni’s model-based approach reduced the need for extensive hardware-in-the-loop testing and consequently reduced costs, he says.
After receiving his Ph.D. in 1978 in engineering systems with a concentration in computer methodology and AI, he joined Perceptronics in Woodland Hills, Calif., as director of artificial intelligence and software research, eventually rising to executive vice president and chief technology officer.
“IEEE is the premier engineering society.”
In 1980 he began working on a distributed simulation technology for the U.S. Army. He led a team that was designing a program to train soldiers and allow them to complete practice missions in safe, virtual environments. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Army sponsored the work.
At the time, the training simulators used were expensive to build, underutilized, and inflexible.
Madni says he had two goals for the new simulation system: to lower costs, increase utilization, and allow military personnel to modify the scenarios as needed. The technology he and his team developed did just that.
He later returned to the simulation effort, this time focused on enhancing it with immersive story-telling techniques. The project was funded by the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, DARPA, and the U.S. Department of Energy as well as several aerospace and automotive companies.
Madni modeled the simulations after video games and movies, engaging multiple senses to create more immersive experiences for users.
Today the Army uses the two systems, called the “game-based training simulations for part-task training” and the “VR-enabled distributed simulation system for collective training.”
Madni left Perceptronics in 1994 to help found Intelligent Systems Technology, an R&D company in Los Angeles that specializes in modeling and simulation technology. He served as the startup’s CEO and CTO until 2009, when he joined the USC faculty as head of the interdisciplinary systems architecting and engineering master’s degree program. Madni is the founding director of USC’s Distributed Autonomy and Intelligent Systems Laboratory, which conducts research in augmented intelligence, autonomous systems, cyber-physical-human-systems, and transdisciplinary systems engineering.
“My father had a passion for education and instilled that same passion in me from a very young age,” he says. “His dream for me was to someday be a faculty member at a prestigious U.S. university. By joining USC, I have fulfilled his dream and have contributed to transforming engineering education for 21st century engineering challenges.”
Life Fellow Azad Madni [middle] proudly displays his IEEE Simon Ramo Medal at the IEEE Honors Ceremony. He is accompanied by IEEE President-Elect Thomas Coughlin [left] and IEEE President Saifur Rahman.Robb Cohen Photography
Teaching systems engineering through storytelling
It was at USC that Madni developed TRASEE.
Instead of a typical lecture format, students start with a short scenario and a technical problem to solve. Each member of a group is assigned a role. The teams use a digital twin—a virtual model—of a machine relevant to the story to assess how well their efforts are succeeding.
Madni says the approach helps students pick up information faster, gain leadership skills, and learn to work with others outside their discipline and from other cultures.
“By taking abstract engineering concepts and embedding them in stories, I’m able to communicate the ideas to students much more clearly,” he says.
According to a 2018 study, students who learn through role-playing exercises score 45 percent higher on tests than those taught through traditional lectures.
“IEEE is the premier engineering society,” he says. “It goes well beyond electronics and electrical engineering. It encompasses many disciplines including biomedical engineering, control systems engineering, cybernetics, systems engineering, and engineering management.
“IEEE being multidisciplinary makes it an ideal forum for networking with engineers from different disciplines.”
Madni says he enjoys mentoring aspiring engineering students and young professionals working in both academia and industry. He says this is his way of giving back and he enjoys helping them to “realize and live their dream as I did.”Source: IEEE SPECTRUM NEWS
The IEEE Board of Directors shapes the future direction of IEEE and is committed to ensuring IEEE remains a strong and vibrant organization—serving the needs of its members and the engineering and technology community worldwide—while fulfilling the IEEE mission of advancing technology for the benefit of humanity.
This article features IEEE Board of Directors members Leila De Floriani, Kathy Herring Hayashi, and Vincenzo Piuri.
De Floriani is a mathematician, computer scientist, and educator with academic experience in Europe and the United States. She is a pioneer in data visualization and geometric modeling. Her work on multi-resolution terrain modeling and visualization has been extensively used in geographic information systems, video games, flight simulators, and web-based terrain navigation tools. Her recent work on topology-based analysis resulted in software tools for tree segmentation and reconstruction from big forestry data acquired through lidar. These tools have been used to track forest characteristics in connection with carbon emission evaluation and forecasting forest evolution.
As the 2020 president of the IEEE Computer Society, De Floriani established a permanent committee on Diversity and Inclusion. Additionally, she strengthened the society’s leadership in open access and open science—focusing on research reproducibility, which led to a roadmap for professional societies. She is also a member of the IEEE Conferences Committee.
Having authored more than 300 peer-reviewed scientific publications, De Floriani served as editor in chief of the IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics from 2015 to 2018. She introduced research reproducibility projects by publishing papers enhanced with reproducible code and data.
Kathy Herring Hayashi has been involved in the semiconductor industry her entire career. She has developed, deployed, and analyzed advanced software tools to create computer and mobile phone chips. She designed advanced in-house CAD software tools for the semiconductor industry, transitioned to commercial electronic design automation tools, and then brought her professional leadership to focus on semiconductor-yield solutions. Herring Hayashi currently works with semiconductor workflows in large-scale computer environments.
Herring Hayashi has served in a wide variety of leadership roles, interfacing within many levels of IEEE. She has a track record of projects that embrace innovation and community leadership. As the IEEE Region 6 director, Herring Hayashi has led region-wide initiatives related to semiconductors, engaging young professionals and supporting sustainable and global humanitarian related technologies. In this role, she also establishes Board-level policies and interfaces with IEEE volunteer leadership. She serves as Vice Chair of the IEEE Global Semiconductors ad hoc and is a member of the IEEE Member and Geographic Activities (MGA) and IEEE-USA Board of Directors.
She says that by working together with IEEE members, the IEEE community can help others reach career goals by showing them the full benefits of the organization.
Piuri is a scientist, educator, and community leader. His theoretical research deepened interdisciplinary aspects of artificial intelligence to allow for adaptivity to evolving environmental situations and operational needs. His scientific achievements have enhanced applications in industry, the environment, biometrics, and ambient intelligence. Piuri’s original research results have been published in more than 400 international journals, conference proceedings, and books.
In his IEEE volunteer activities, Piuri focuses on serving with a human-centered personalized approach, empowering everyone in the community to be leaders in technology and innovation, and embracing emerging technologies. By nurturing local communities, supporting underserved groups and geographical areas, and promoting cooperation, he has been a champion of proactively ensuring equal opportunities and promoting diversity and inclusion.