Houston University Names Director for New Superconductor Institute

Houston — The University of Houston has announced the first director for its new Advanced Superconductor Manufacturing Institute.

Syed Ahmed, a 20-year veteran of Southern California Edison who worked on projects such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s High Temperature Superconductivity Initiative, has taken on the Houston role. The institute, which received a $500,000 planning grant in May from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, was created to leverage the semiconductor research conducted by Venkat Selvamanickam, the director of the Applied Research Hub at the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the Houston campus.

Selvamanickam, who is also a mechanical engineering professor at U of H, has led efforts to build an industry-based consortium to speed broader commercialization of high-temperature superconductors. So far, 33 companies, including General Electric and Chevron, have joined the university’s consortium.

Superconductors are super-cooled materials, typically made into wires, that can take 10 times the current flow of a conventional copper wire. Superconducting wires are used in some industries, especially in energy—think transmission lines and wind turbines. Ahmed says the technology should be applied more widely.

Superconductivity is a point of pride for U of H, which put itself on the academic map on the subject in the 1980s, when physicist Paul Chu discovered a compound through which electricity could flow without losing energy at temperatures above the freezing point of liquid nitrogen.

In 2009, Selvamanickam was recruited to the research hub, which is a collaboration between the university’s Texas Center for Superconductivity and its college of engineering.

“We will bring all the talents of superconductors to manufacturing,” Ahmed says. “We want to help manufacturers of devices like transformers or generators to use the superconductor technology. This is a technology that is going to change everything.”

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