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'Ironman' professor knows plenty about energy

Nate Johnson
September 26, 2013

It takes a good deal of energy to compete in an Ironman Triathlon. Luckily, that’s something Nate Johnson, who has 11 marathons under his belt, knows plenty about. As an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering and Computing Systems in the College of Technology and Innovation, Johnson spends his time researching sustainable energy solutions with applications in off-grid energy, micro-grids and building energy management.

It was the working environment that attracted Johnson to ASU, which he says encourages professors to address real-world challenges on a local and global scale. He most recently served as an NSF/ASEE Small Business Postdoctoral Research Diversity Fellow at HOMER Energy, LLC in Boulder, Colo., where he designed a new computational engine for the company’s micro-grid software.

At ASU, Johnson plans to continue his research, focusing on energy, water and health, which he names as “pressing societal issues that will persist for several decades.” He believes that his cross-disciplinary, hands-on approach to teaching fosters an environment in which students can experience the joy of discovering how things work through concept-based lectures, comparative-driven lessons, real-world case studies and design projects.

Johnson says that his approach “requires students to develop a systems-level understanding of engineering, economics, anthropology and environmental science theories. That understanding allows students to solve real-world problems that transform society – and themselves – through an interactive learning experience that benefits humanity.”

Besides his NSF/ASEE fellowship, Johnson is also the recipient of a Teaching Excellence Award from the Graduate College, Iowa State University (his alma mater, where he earned his doctoral, master’s and bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering, as well as a master’s in international development) and a Preparing Future Faculty Fellow award from the Center for Excellence in Research and Teaching at Iowa State University. Most recently, he was awarded seed funding by the College of Technology and Innovation for his research in "Engineering Sustainable Energy Systems.”

Ann McKenna, chair of the engineering department, calls Johnson “a perfect fit for our new concentration in humanitarian engineering, global resolve and energy-related projects and research.”