Near-death experience leads UT professor to her life's work

Published: Mar. 15, 2018 at 6:36 PM EDT
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An electrical engineer at The University of Toledo is working on game-changing technology when it comes to lithium ion batteries. A near-death experience is what led her to this work.

Dr. Sandrine Mubenga is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is in central Africa. Dr. Mubenga's quest to becoming an electrical engineer began as a teenager.

She has her bachelor's degree, Master's degree and a PhD from The University of Toledo, where she is now an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering Technology.

The technology she has developed in the UT lab could one day be used around the world. It's called a bilevel equalizer. It's a new energy storage solution for battery packs in things like hybrid and electric vehicles, satellites as well as grid stations. It's the first time passive and active battery equalizers have been combined, "That is why it is so special. We are able to accomplish low cost and high performance for equalization."

Even if you don't understand all this the technology, it's easy to understand that what she's doing is important and that Dr. Mubenga loves her work, "I am excited every day. I am excited because this work is my purpose in life. I am enjoying the ride. I am thankful for everybody who helped me reach this point, especially my mentor Dr. Tom Stuart."

Her inspiration to become an electrical engineer was born out of a near-death experience. Her appendix burst when she was 17. The hospital she was taken to in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had no power. Her father knocked on doors in the village for three days to find fuel to power a generator so doctor's could perform life-saving surgery, "That's why I wanted to make a difference. Find a solution, so I could bring electricity to places like that."

She's kept that promise too. In addition to her work on the bilevel equalizer she also started a company in the DRC. To date, that company has helped bring power to thousands. The company is even working to bring power to the hospital where Dr. Mubenga nearly died, "What we do is design and install renewable energy systems in The Congo. Typically we focus on solar because that is where the market is right now. "

In addition to her research, Dr. Mubenga also teaches at UT. We could all learn something from the lessons she shares with her students, "I always tell them don't be discouraged. If something is hard, keep working to find a solution. The solution is within you."

There's a patent pending on the bilevel equalizer. The technology has been proven to work in the lab, so the next step is testing in the field.

In addition to all her inspirational work, Dr. Mubenga and her husband have three young children. She speaks four languages fluently..She's working to learn a fifth language, Swahili.