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Baosen Zhang appointed as Keith and Nancy Rattie Endowed Career Development Professor

October 16, 2017

Professor and Chair Radha Poovendran, Professor Baosen Zhang, Keith Rattie and Vice Dean Greg Miller

Over 40 years ago, Keith Rattie (BSEE ’76) received a phone call that would change his life. In August 1975, Rattie was entering his senior year in the University of Washington Department of Electrical Engineering (UW EE). UW EE chair at the time, Dr. Daniel Dow, shared the news with Rattie that Standard Oil of California (now Chevron) would be awarding a $1,000 scholarship to a senior electrical engineering student specializing in power systems. Dr. Dow recommended Rattie as the recipient, spurring a future career and passion for the energy industry.

After graduating from UW EE, Rattie relocated to California to begin his career in the company’s Corporate Engineering Department in San Francisco. Rattie spent 19 years with Chevron in a variety of assignments, rising to General Manager of the company’s International Natural Gas Development Unit. During these years, Rattie spent time traveling to different countries around the world, noticing one common fixture among nations – prosperity and access to affordable energy go hand in hand.

“There may be no greater challenge facing mankind today than figuring out how to meet the energy needs of a planet that could have 9 billion people living on it in 2050,” Rattie said. “The magnitude of that challenge becomes even more daunting when one considers that, of the nearly 7 billion people on the planet today, more than a billion people worldwide are living without electricity.”

“Today, America and the world run on oil, natural gas and coal“ he said. “That will continue to be the case until we overcome the technological and economic barriers to large-scale solar power and other renewable alternatives.”

In the meantime, Rattie remains a staunch advocate for greater use of natural gas in electric power generation and other end-use markets, due to availability and environmental advantages. Additionally, Rattie stresses that a confluence of technologies – battery storage, electric vehicles, self-driving cars and solar photovoltaic systems – have the potential to dramatically change the world’s energy consumption over the next 2 to 3 decades.

Over the next several decades, Rattie sees distributed energy supply displacing the old-world order in which power is generated in large, central power plants and transmitted over long distances for distribution to end-use markets. Electrical engineers in general, and the UW EE department in particular, can play a central role in that transition.

When deciding how best to support the development and application of next-generation technologies, Rattie knew that UW EE held a reputation for expanding the boundaries of innovation through creative thought and rich collaboration. Additionally, the department holds a talented faculty base in power and energy systems. Based on this, he selected UW EE to establish and grow the Keith and Nancy Rattie Endowed Career Development Professorship.

“We are deeply grateful to Keith and Nancy and their foundation for their support and commitment to build an excellent program here at UW EE,” Department Professor and Chair Radha Poovendran said. “Our relationship with Keith and Nancy is very special and deeply meaningful to the department. And we are incredibly proud of Keith and of his astounding accomplishments as a UW EE alum.”

When envisioning the right candidate for the professorship, Rattie knew that the individual would have to think towards the future, investigating all facets of renewable technologies, such as solar and wind power and electric cars and autonomous vehicles. For Rattie, UW EE Professor Baosen Zhang fits the profile perfectly.

“Nancy and I are thrilled that the UW EE department has chosen Baosen for this professorship,” Rattie said. “The work that he is doing on addressing urban congestion is critical to how we will address energy usage. I look forward to great things from Baosen’s work”

Zhang joined the UW EE faculty in Spring 2015, further enhancing the department’s power and energy group. Zhang utilizes mathematical insights to control cyberphysical systems, such as the electrical grid and the urban transportation system to make them more efficient and reliable. For example, he has resolved the long-standing open problem of characterizing the ge­ometry of the feasible power flow region of electricity networks. This re­sult allows power systems engineers to optimally allocate resources in a large network, greatly increasing the efficiency of the system.

Zhang’s recent projects are in the area of integrating energy storage into the grid and controlling urban congestion through better parking management, establishing partnerships with the Seattle Department of Transportation, Microsoft and Seattle City Light. In addition to his position as assistant professor with UW EE, Zhang is a faculty member with the university’s Clean Energy Institute (CEI). The institute supports the advancement of next-generation solar energy and battery materials and devices, as well as their integration with systems and the grid.

For Zhang, the professorship goes beyond research funding; it supports the future generation of renewable energy visionaries – his students.

Keith Rattie with Dr. Dan Dow

“It is a great honor to receive the Keith and Nancy Rattie Professorship,” Zhang said. “This gift enables us to get started on solving hard problems and make real world impact without waiting for funding. It prepares our students to face some of the world’s most complex challenges for future generations. There are a few important questions we will investigate: how do we improve the reliability of the grid, and how do we make the grid system better? As a professor, the most important thing that I can do is educate and support my students – the next generation of researchers. With the Keith and Nancy Rattie Professorship, I can do just that.”

Although this is the beginning of Zhang’s illustrious career, Rattie’s reputation as a leader in the field has already been well-established. Rattie served as president and CEO of Questar, an integrated natural gas company headquartered in Salt Lake City. As Questar CEO, he shifted the corporate strategy to focus on the company’s exploration and production (E&P) subsidiary and capitalize on the growing demand for clean-burning natural gas for electric power generation. As a result, Questar became one of the fastest growing natural gas producers in the country.

During Rattie’s tenure as Questar CEO, the company was recognized three times by Business Week magazine as one of the top performers in the S&P 500. Questar ranked #5 in both 2007 and 2008 and #18 in 2009. Rattie was also recognized as one of America’s top chief executives by Institutional Investor magazine, in annual surveys of more than 1,500 institutional investors and analysts.

Although a recognized name, Rattie will continue to make a global impact on renewable energy solutions for generations to come through the establishment of the Keith and Nancy Rattie Endowed Career Development Professorship.

Zhang’s professorship is the third bestowed to UW EE’s power and energy systems group. Other endowed professors include Close Professor Dan Kirschen and WRF Innovation Assistant Professor of Clean Energy Brian Johnson, who will join UW EE this spring.

“To build a world-class program in power and energy is a top priority for the department,” Poovendran said. “The Keith and Nancy Rattie Endowed Professorship is a critical step in achieving this goal and ensuring future generations have the tools to carry this vision.”