Engineering professors honored by top professional institutes

One is a former astronaut who champions the teaching of science to young people. The other is a pioneering researcher looking for ways to improve the safety and reliability of the nation’s power systems. Both are members of the faculty at the Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering — and now both have received major recognition for their work.

Norman Thagard, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the associate dean for college relations in the College of Engineering, has been named a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) for 2009. The honor is given to “those who have made notable and valuable contributions to the arts, sciences, or technology of aeronautics or astronautics.”

Meanwhile, Thomas L. Baldwin, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a researcher at Florida State’s Center for Advanced Power Systems, has been elevated to the rank of fellow by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world’s leading professional association for the advancement of technology. The IEEE cited Baldwin’s “contributions to grounding and protection in industrial power distribution systems.”

“To have two of our faculty members achieve such high recognition within their fields speaks quite well of the overall quality of the faculty within the College of Engineering,” said the college’s dean, Ching-Jen “Marty” Chen. “I join my colleagues in congratulating both men for their extraordinary accomplishments.”

Thagard is perhaps best known for his days with NASA when, as a Mission Specialist Astronaut, he flew on four space shuttle flights. His fifth mission in 1995 was as a Cosmonaut Researcher for the 18th expedition to Russia’s MIR Space Station. During that mission, he set an American space endurance record of 115 consecutive days. Among his many honors, he was named one of NASA’s 15 “Superstars of Space Flight” in 1996 and was elected to the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2004.

Thagard also is the co-founder and executive director of the Challenger Learning Center of Tallahassee, a K-12 outreach facility established in 2003 that uses aerospace as a theme to foster students’ long-term interest in math, science and technology; create positive learning experiences; and motivate young people to pursue careers in these fields.

“I am deeply honored by election to fellow status in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics,” Thagard said. “Its members are aerospace professionals, many of them engineers in various disciplines. Having spent almost 25 years of my own professional life as a Marine Corps fighter pilot, NASA astronaut, space researcher and engineer, it is a career highlight to be recognized in this manner.”

Chen said Thagard’s honor was “a wonderful recognition of his contributions to space exploration, as well as his efforts to establish a science outreach program for the college via the Challenger Learning Center, which is inspiring younger generations to consider science and engineering as careers. He is an excellent role model for our engineering students.”

Baldwin’s research is in the area of electric power systems, with particular application to industrial and commercial facilities. His most notable work involves grounding and earthing systems; specifically, he investigates how electrical currents flow into the ground from lightning strikes and electrical short-circuits.

“Receiving this award demonstrates the quality of scholarly activity that is conducted across the Florida State University campus today,” Baldwin said of the IEEE honor. “Such an award is never earned in isolation, but comes from the joint collaborations with colleagues across campus and the students’ participation in research activities. Many of my colleagues could equally have received the award. It was more a matter of chance that I received it at this time.”

Chen described Baldwin’s IEEE fellowship as “the highest honor an electrical engineer can receive in his or her field. Professor Baldwin is a major contributor in teaching power systems and control, and his research is paving the way for a safer, more reliable and more secure national power grid.”

With 35,000 members from 79 countries, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics advances the state of aerospace science, engineering and technological leadership. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which serves more than 375,000 members, including nearly 80,000 student members, from more than 160 countries, is a leading authority on areas ranging from aerospace systems, computers and telecommunications to biomedical engineering, electric power and consumer electronics.