Welcome Khurram Afridi
- New Faculty Year: 2018
Khurram Afridi has joined the faculty of Cornell’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) as an Associate Professor. Afridi comes to Cornell after ten years on the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Colorado Boulder, and eleven years in technology and educational startups.
Afridi's research interest is in high frequency power electronics and energy systems incorporating power electronic controls as a means to efficiently harness, store, process, transmit, distribute and use energy. His primary focus in the past ten years has been on miniaturizing power converters by leveraging concepts from the field of radio frequency (RF) engineering and applying them to power electronics. “The goal of power electronics is to process energy without any loss,” says Afridi. “We do this by using electronic switches and other ideally lossless components. If we can switch at higher frequencies, we can shrink the size of the power converters for applications such as electric vehicle charges.” Afridi has also merged RF engineering and power electronics in his work on delivering energy wirelessly from the roadway to electric vehicles while they are in motion.
Afridi grew up in Pakistan where, in the 1980s, his image of the United States was based on television shows like CHiPs. What he knew about American universities he had learned from a thick Barron’s Guide at the American Center in Lahore. Based on that Guide, Afridi applied for undergrad and got accepted at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Cornell among other places. He decided to join Caltech, and on his way to Pasadena was thrilled to see a California Highway Patrol (CHiPs) motorcycle. “Other than that,” says Afridi, “the America I found was far different from my perception.”
Caltech had a strong influence on Afridi. “It taught me the value of fundamental math and science,” says Afridi, “the three years of math, two years of physics, and a year of chemistry we had at Caltech, gave me the confidence to attack any problem in electrical engineering that I encountered.” As a sophomore at Caltech, Afridi was selected by the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) to be part of a student satellite design team. The student team went through an intensive two-week satellite design course to come up to speed. Afridi was responsible for the design of the 8- and 32-GHz transmitter of the satellite (SURFSAT 1), which was launched into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The experience got him interested in microwave and RF circuits, and he decided to pursue graduate studies at MIT, instead of starting his own company which was his original intent.
At MIT, Afridi found a new passion in power electronics, a nascent field which he had studied at Caltech from two of its founders–David Middlebrook and Slobodan Cuk. His advisor at MIT, John Kassakian, was the first president of the IEEE power electronics society, and Afridi’s work focused on automotive power electronics. After his doctorate, Afridi joined two of his MIT friends in a startup company called Techlogix, whose first product was based on his Ph.D. work. Initially serving as the company’s Chief Technology Officer, he became the company’s Chief Operating Officer as the company grew and diversified. Today, Techlogix describes itself as “an information technology, consulting, and business solutions company that helps enterprises use innovation and emerging technologies to digitally transform their businesses.” Afridi is on the Board of Directors.
After seven years at Techlogix, Afridi led a multi-year effort to develop the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) School of Science and Engineering (SSE), which is Pakistan’s first private science and engineering ‘research school.’ As its founding Project Director he helped raise $58 million for LUMS SSE and guided the school from a concept in 2004 through start of classes in fall 2008.
In January 2009, Afridi started as a visiting faculty in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, and then joined the faculty at the University of Colorado Boulder in Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering. In the summer of 2018, Afridi joined Cornell’s ECE faculty. “The people I met at Cornell are the kind of scholars I knew at Caltech,” says Afridi, “they are doing thoughtful, fundamental work with widespread applications. There are strong materials, devices, circuits and systems groups here, so I was able to see lots of possible collaborations. Cornell is a perfect fit for me.”
At Cornell, Afridi will continue to push the frontiers of power electronics by operating them at higher and higher frequencies. To do this, engineers will need to create new energy conversion architectures, circuit topologies, control methodologies, and device structures, and Cornell is the perfect place to tackle this challenge.