INSIDE Chico State
0 March 8, 2001
Volume 31 Number 12
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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McLeod Institute Receives $1 Million for Navy Simulation Project

Roy Crosbie, director of  the McLeod Institute of Simulation Sciences
Roy Crosbie, director of the McLeod Institute of Simulation Sciences

(Photo by Barbara Alderson)

On February 21, the McLeod Institute of Simulation Sciences at CSU, Chico received an $871,610 grant from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), matched by $159,355 from the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology. The grant will continue work on a real-time simulator of power electronic systems, under the direction of Roy Crosbie, Electrical Engineering.

The three-year project with ONR will provide a cost-effective way of evaluating controllers and other related equipment for the Navy. Crosbie, director for academic development for ECST, is the principle investigator. He is also director of the McLeod Institute of Simulation Sciences in the O'Connell Technology Center. Assisting Crosbie are Richard Bednar, Ben-Dau Tseng, and John Zenor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE); Benjoe Juliano, Computer Science; and Masao Shimoji, research professor.

Crosbie enjoys the opportunity to build faculty teams working on different projects and drawing on different people's skills. "I think, especially in technical fields like engineering and computer science, a lot of the research opportunity that exists really depends on having a team of faculty working together," said Crosbie.

This project grew out of a $113,000 contract for initial development of the simulation system that ECST and the McLeod Institute had with Hingorani Power Electronics. Narain Hingorani, one of the world's experts in power electronics and a former colleague of Crosbie's, be-lieved real-time simu- lations of power electronics could be done with faster, less expensive technologies, and he approached Crosbie for help.

"We're looking at the part of power systems technology that is referred to as power electronics, which involves conversions of energy from alternating current to direct current and then from direct current to alternating current," explained Crosbie. "The original major application was in large transmission of electrical power over long distances, say from a hydroelectric source to a heavily urbanized area, or from Washington to Southern California."

The project's technical challenge is that AC/DC converters must be controlled, and the controllers involve electronic switching that occurs at speeds high enough to make it difficult to simulate them in real time. Crosbie and his team, using PCs equipped with a circuit board carrying four digital signal processors, have been able to meet this goal (solving the equations that describe the system behavior every 10 microseconds) for some of the simulations.

When Crosbie was an undergraduate in the late 1950s, the field of computer science was in a fledgling state. Digital computers were slow and expensive, especially for such problems as solving differential equations. A native of England, Crosbie built his first analog computer from about $50 worth of parts during his senior year at Liverpool University in 1956 - 57.

"I am continually amazed at how far and how fast computer technology has advanced since those early days," remarked Crosbie. "This has been fueled to a large extent by the creation of the microelectronics industry. In my final year as an undergraduate, we had a hurriedly created course on the new invention of transistors that were replacing vacuum tubes in a limited number of areas. These were, of course, individual transistors, and most of them weren't even made from silicon; they used germanium, which is very temperature-sensitive and had to be handled very carefully."

Crosbie received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering, working in industry as an electronic design engineer and teaching electrical engineering and computer-related subjects at Salford University near Manchester, England. He developed a simulation laboratory at Salford and became active in the Society for Computer Simulation (SCS).

After graduate school, Crosbie worked at the Marconi Company on the first Marconi radar displays to use transistors, and during that period they used the first integrated circuits -- initially just two similar transistors on the same piece of silicon. Then more complex integrated circuits with a dozen or so components started to appear, but it was still a long way from the modern chip.

"Bear in mind that I can now buy for a few dollars a chip that in the 1950s and '60s would have needed a system in a number of six-foot-high racks, costing tens of thousands of dollars and involving many years of design effort," noted Crosbie. "This is now available to me as an off-the-shelf, inexpensive component that can be incorporated into a much more complex system."

In 1983, Crosbie applied for a position at CSU, Chico at the urging of Ralph Huntsinger, Computer Science, and fellow SCS member (both served as president of the society in the late 1980s). Huntsinger proposed honoring John McLeod, a founding member of SCS, by establishing the first McLeod Institute of Simulation Sciences at CSU, Chico. Founded in 1986, the institute now has 20 centers from Canada to China and consists of groups of faculty who have a particular interest in modeling or simulation and collaborate on joint projects.

"The idea that started from Chico is now worldwide, and Ralph Huntsinger deserves a lot of the credit for the vision that he had," said Crosbie.

Barbara Alderson with Marion Harmon

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