In memoriam: James S. Thorp, National Academy of Engineering member and professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering
May 8, 2018
James “Jim” S. Thorp, National Academy of Engineering member and the Hugh P. and Ethel C. Kelly Professor Emeritus of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, died May 2, 2018. He was 81.
A preeminent scholar in the field of electrical power, Thorp made significant contributions in research on advances that strengthen the electric utility industry's ability to prevent or more easily restore power grid blackouts. Thorp was a principal contributor to the development of phasor measurement units, which have been recognized by electric utility industries around the world as the modern measurement system capable of providing advanced control, monitoring, and protection of power grids.
Thorpe, a native of Kansas City, Missouri, led the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering as department head, since his arrival at Virginia Tech in 2004, through summer 2009. Thorp wrote more than 200 publications, held two U.S. patents, and was involved in research in excess of several million dollars while working for the university.
“I met Jim back in 1987 when I was a junior faculty at Virginia Tech," said Jaime De La Ree, associate department head and associate professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering. “From our first discussions I was impressed with Jim's level and depth of knowledge about many topics. His capacity to analyze and process information was remarkable. But deeper was Jim's desire to educate, mentor, and guide young engineering students and junior faculty. Later in life, I had the opportunity to serve under him as assistant department head of electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech and learned from him new activities that enhanced my professional life. I will always miss him.”
In 2008, along with his colleague, University Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor Arun Phadke, Thorp received the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Electrical Engineering from the Franklin Institute.
“Jim Thorp and I have been colleagues for the past 42 years. His passing is a matter of deep sorrow to me,” said Phadke. “In all our work together I could always count on him to provide strong analytical foundation to the work we did. Together, we wrote numerous papers and books, travelled to many countries on work related matters, and I believe we took delight in each other’s companionship. He was a master raconteur and his colorful stories were always a joy to the listener. I will miss him.”
Thorp was named the Hugh P. and Ethel C. Kelly Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors in 2004.
He served in a number of international professional technical societies, including being elected a Fellow of the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers for contributions to the development of digital techniques for power system protection. Thorp received the 2001 Power Engineering Society Career Service Award and the 2006 IEEE Outstanding Power Engineering Educator Award.
Thorp is predeceased by his son, Jeffrey Thorp, and survived by wife Jane Thorp, daughter Betsy VanAlstyne (William), son Gregory Thorp, step-daughter Erica Shoemaker (David); and grandchildren, Alex Bruce, Kelsey Bruce, and Emma Lamoureux.
Thorp earned his bachelor's degree, master's degree, and Ph.D. from Cornell University. Post college, Thorp remained at Cornell as a faculty member, eventually rising to the position of director of the School of Electrical Engineering. His tenure at the university saw the development of an advanced program of electrical engineering.
Thorp’s memorial service will be held on July 28, 2018, in Ithaca, New York.
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