Longtime GE researcher receives high engineering honor, one of the highest in his field

Manoj Shah is shown in this undated photo provided by GE Research in Niskayuna. The veteran researcher has been elected to the National Academy of Engineers, one of the top honors in the field.

Manoj Shah is shown in this undated photo provided by GE Research in Niskayuna. The veteran researcher has been elected to the National Academy of Engineers, one of the top honors in the field.

NISKAYUNA — “I’m never satisfied with what already has been done,” says Manoj Shah, a veteran engineer who recently un-retired to work on the next generation of wind-generated electric power technology.

It’s a statement that would seem obvious to anyone familiar with Shah’s 40-year career. The longtime GE Research scientist’s name is on 88 patents and his work advancing the design and performance of electric machines was recognized this month with one of the highest honors in his field: Election to the National Academy of Engineers.

Fewer than 2,400 U.S. engineers have been inducted since the academy formed in 1964. Its 2022 class includes Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Moderna co-founder Noubar B. Afeyan. 

Also elected this year were Colin Parris, chief technology officer of GE Digital, and John McDonald of GE Grid Solutions. 

Formal induction is scheduled for October.

Shah is an electrical engineer by training but he’s an omnivore, continually looking to other disciplines for things that will advance his own projects and his knowledge base in his field.

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Shah said the fundamentals haven’t changed since he started his study of electric power engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology: Faraday’s Law is still the same as when Michael Faraday documented electromagnetism in 1831, and copper core motors still operate on the same principles.

But the materials used in these devices have seen striking advances, he said.

“People come up with new materials, people come up with new ways to remove heat,” Shah said. “When the new technologies come, my antenna goes up.

“The whole idea is to stay connected with experts in other disciplines and see what they can bring. A lot of times things don’t work. But when you have an early failure, I know what not to do.”

What not to do, that is, until the technology improves enough that the physics and economics of using it become feasible.

Shah and his fellow researchers seek patents on the advances in technology as they progress, securing more of the intellectual property rights that are one of GE Research’s biggest assets and advantages.

He’s been part of 88 patents secured so far, and more are potentially in the works, including one that went before the patent review committee just this past week.

“People keep pushing me, [saying] you cannot leave until you get to 100,” Shah said.

But he did leave, retiring from GE in 2016 and becoming a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. 

As his tenure with GE passed the 30-year mark, Shah had become used to working with people younger than himself, sometimes in a mentoring role. But these colleagues held PhDs and were in their late 20s or early 30s; Shah could assume they knew the fundamentals of the concepts he was laying out.

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His RPI students were undergraduates in their late teens or early 20s, and he had to reach them at a different level.

“You cannot take a single statement for granted,” he said. “You have to explain the fundamentals in a way that is so clear that you draw them toward you. So that was an interesting challenge, and I never shy away from a challenge.

“What that has done is, when I went back to research, that clarity … helped me become a better researcher.”

In August 2021, the GE Research Center in Niskayuna asked Shah to un-retire.

“GERC had a lot of interesting projects in my area of expertise,” he said. “There is no way I could say no, I love research and there is no better environment.”

He’s currently working with other GE researchers on an offshore wind turbine project jointly funded by General Electric and the U.S. Department of Energy. Once more, he finds himself in the role of identifying and solving practical problems, working to make equipment more efficient and better able to withstand a harsh saltwater environment. And he’s watching mechanical, thermal and materials research for ways to make it happen

“It’s a multidisciplinary problem,” Shah said. “We are one of the many cogs in the wheel.”

Shah and his wife, Mira, sold their Latham home and live in a Guilderland apartment as she wraps up her career as a dentist. Their children, both physicians and professors, live out of the area and the couple is now thinking about Florida, where the climate is more similar to their native Mumbai.

But if they relocate, it won’t mean a second retirement for the veteran engineer: He’ll work remotely.

“I always find things to do that are interesting,” Shah said.

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