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UW Crest with engineering background
October 31, 2022

James Braun: 2022 Distinguished Achievement Award recipient

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James Braun

James Braun MSME ‘80, PhDME ‘88 (BS ‘76, University of Massachusetts)
Herrick Professor of Engineering, Purdue University

We are honoring James as a mechanical engineer, educator and practitioner whose operations and technology research has revolutionized high-performance buildings, particularly in HVAC&R systems.

How did you decide to become an engineer, and what brought you to UW-Madison?

I chose engineering because of a strong interest in math and physics along with a desire to work on practical problems. I chose to attend UW-Madison as a graduate student because of the Solar Energy Lab. I had a strong interest in doing renewable energy research and the solar lab had a world-renowned reputation. It was a good time for solar energy research during the end of the Carter administration in the late 70’s and I wanted to be part of it.

How did your experience in the College of Engineering shape your career path?

I learned how to do engineering research, publish quality papers, and give presentations while in the solar lab. That built the foundations for my academic career. I believe that all of the professors in the solar lab had a great impact on my career, but perhaps in different ways. This includes Professors Sandy Klein, John Mitchell, Bill Beckman and Jack Duffie. Even more important than the technical knowledge that I gained, I learned how to tackle new problems and work together in a team. The collaboration of the professors in the solar lab was a model for my future academic activities at Purdue.

What are some of your best memories from your time at UW-Madison?

There were many great social interactions with faculty and students within the solar lab. This included skating parties in the winter, picnics with volleyball in the summer, intramural volleyball teams, racketball, Friday football games, etc. I have many great memories from those years.

Of what accomplishments are you most proud?

I am very proud of a number of accomplishments during my time in the solar lab at UW and now at Purdue. During my master’s degree, I developed tools to assess the performance of seasonal solar energy systems and applied them to assess overall economic potential, results of which appear in the solar energy textbook by Duffie and Beckman. My PhD research involved the development of intelligent control algorithms for large cooling plants, such as the UW plant, that are part of an ASHRAE handbook applications chapter. Between my MS and PhD degrees, I was responsible for a thermal system simulation program called TRNSYS within the Solar Energy Lab. I developed many models for TRNSYS that are still widely used today. At Purdue I have mentored nearly 100 graduate students and postdocs. I am perhaps most proud of having established the Center for High Performance Buildings at Purdue, which included the construction of a building to study buildings, and an industrial consortium.

What factors have enabled your success?

Certainly the faculty of the Solar Energy Lab had a great role, but perhaps the greatest contributions came from my graduate students at Purdue because of their hard work, independence, curiosity and intelligence.

What are your hobbies?

Biking, golfing, hiking, skiing. When I was younger, I played basketball, tennis, volleyball and racketball.