Brian Johnson: Engineering Professor

June 17, 2008
Brian Johnson is professor and department chair for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Idaho (Moscow), but he said that he learns from his students

Brian Johnson is professor and department chair for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Idaho (Moscow), but he said that he learns from his students. When he started teaching 16 years ago, he had limited power industry experience but he has also learned from guest lecturers from the industry who speak to his classes as well as IEEE conferences and activities. He also works on research projects and does some consulting.

“Most of the senior and graduate-level courses I teach include part-time students from industry, and I usually learn from the students when we talk about ways they are planning to apply the course material in their jobs. I always learn something new each time I teach a class,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s interests include HVDC transmission, FACTS, custom power technologies, energy storage, utility applications of superconductivity, power system protection, electromagnetic transients in power systems, and intelligent control of traffic signal systems.

He said he likes working with students in the classroom and on senior design or research projects. “Especially when they figure a solution to an engineering problem that they hadn't thought of (and even more if I hadn’t thought of it either)—and then you have an ‘a-ha moment,’” Johnson said.

Johnson has taught at least nine different undergraduate, semester-long courses such as digital logic, energy systems, and power electronic circuits. Some graduate courses he has taught include transients in power systems, advanced power systems protection and understanding power quality. He has also presented several short courses.

He will be offering Power Systems Protection and Relaying through the University of Idaho’s Engineering Outreach Program in the fall. The class is a study of power system faults and the application of relays for power system protection. It will review symmetrical components as applied fault currents. It also includes an introduction to digital filtering and microprocessor-based relaying. It uses computer simulation for the application of relays.

“Power systems protection and relaying is an important aspect of secure, reliable operation of power systems,” Johnson said of the topic. “Protection systems tend to be somewhat unsung within utilities unless there is a misoperation. Microprocessor relays have expanded the capabilities of protection systems. Students will learn how to take advantage of these capabilities to design and implement protection systems.”

Johnson said he originally developed an interest in teaching when he was a counselor at Boy Scout camp. “I had become interested in electrical engineering when I was high school and did a few electronics-related projects on my own and through high school classes,” he said. “I was on a backpacking trip with the lead engineering manager of Wisconsin-Power and Light (John Fabie) while I was an undergraduate, and he did a lot to convince me to go into power engineering.”

Now he is a senior member of the IEEE and is a professional engineer in the states of Wisconsin and Idaho. He is an IEEE Power Engineering Society Representative to the IEEE Council on Superconductivity and a member of the Board of Governors of the IEEE Intelligent Transportation Systems Society.

Johnson tells students to always look at the results of their calculations or computer simulations to see if they are reasonable, “since computer and calculators are very good at making bad results look good. Try to maintain a physical understanding of the problem you are solving; don't just try to choose an equation that looks right.”

When Johnson is not fulfilling his role as professor and IEEE member, he likes to bicycle, cross-country ski and read. He also enjoys activities with his kids.

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