ES2 Director Recognized with 2017 IEEE ITherm Achievement Award

Dr. Alfonso Ortega
Dr. Alfonso Ortega

Dr. Alfonso Ortega became an engineering professor in 1988, the same year the IEEE first presented (and he attended) the Intersociety Conference on Thermal and Thermomechanical Phenomena in Electronic Systems (ITherm). “This has been my principal area of research for my entire career; I grew up with this conference,” says the James R. Birle Professor of Energy Technology and director of Villanova University’s Center for Energy-Smart Electronic Systems (ES2). That special connection makes being named the recipient of the conference’s 2017 IEEE ITherm Achievement Award even more special for this internationally renowned expert. 

On sabbatical and speaking from Catholic University in Santiago, Chile, where he is teaching a course and writing a book on Experimental Measurement, Dr. Ortega says of the award, “I’m thrilled! All the previous recipients are superstars in the field and I’m honored to be counted among them.” Given that the award recognizes significant contributions over time, he adds, “It makes me feel old, but also proud that my career contributions have been impactful!”

In addition to the pride he feels for being part of this select group, Dr. Ortega notes that he greatly appreciates ITherm’s sense of community. “It’s been instrumental in bridging the gap between academics and practitioners, leading to international research partnerships and lifelong friendships.” One of the relationships he most values is with Dr. Dereje Agonafer, professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Texas-Arlington and director of UT’s ES2 center. A friend and colleague for more than 25 years, Dr. Agonafer nominated Dr. Ortega for what he says is a well-deserved honor: “The 2017 ITherm Achievement Award recognizes Professor Ortega’s sustained contributions to advance the art and science of electronics packaging and cooling, his entrepreneurship, his stalwart contributions to IEEE and ASME, and his unparalleled mentorship of students, both undergraduate and graduate, who now, in turn, are making contributions internationally.”

Dr. Ortega’s impressive resume reveals pioneering research in thermal management in electronic systems, convective and conjugate heat transfer in complex flows, experimental measurements in the thermal sciences, and thermal management in energy systems. Professionally, highlights include serving as program director for Thermal Transport and Thermal Processing in the Chemical and Transport Systems Division of The National Science Foundation, and leading the Experimental and Computational Heat Transfer Laboratory at the University of Arizona where he was on faculty for 18 years. In 2006, he joined Villanova University’s Mechanical Engineering department and founded the Laboratory for Advanced Thermal and Fluid Systems. In the College of Engineering he has held the title of Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and Research, and from 2012–2016 he served as the University’s inaugural Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate Programs. Since 2011, Dr. Ortega has been the site director of Villanova’s Center for Energy Smart Electronic Systems (ES2), which was launched with four other universities as a National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center.

A prolific contributor to the electronics thermal/thermo-mechanical management community, Dr. Ortega is an international conference speaker and the author of more than 200 journal and symposia papers, book chapters and monographs. An ASME Fellow, he has been an associate editor for a number of the association’s journals, and has chaired a variety of leading committees and symposia. He currently chairs the ASME Heat Transfer Division Honors and Awards Committee. One of the earliest leaders of the ITherm conference, Dr. Ortega served as co-chair in 1992 and chair in 1994, helping to elevate the visibility of the field of electronics cooling.

As the winner of the ITherm Achievement Award, Dr. Ortega will deliver the keynote address at the industry conference in late May. In “Thermal Energy Management in the Age of Connectivity:  Cooling of Electronic Systems from Device to Data Center,” he will reflect on the environmentally-problematic thermodynamics of data centers, and contrast traditional heat management technologies to more advanced methods, including those that reuse or convert waste heat on the back end. “My presentation will essentially trace the evolution of electronics cooling and technology over the past 30 years, and I really look forward to telling that story,” he says.

Today, Dr. Ortega’s research includes liquid cooling to replace air cooling in data centers, and the recovery and re-use of data center waste heat. “I’m blessed to work on impactful research,” he says. “The Center for Energy-Smart Electronic Systems and the James R. Birle Professorship enable me to take on these important technological problems with my students.”