Steven Shaw, 28
Montana State University
Inside an airliner, vibration frays a tiny piece of insulation, exposing an electrical wire; an arc of electricity ignites vaporized fuel—and a disaster. That’s what investigators suspect caused the 1996 explosion of TWA Flight 800. Electrical engineer Steven Shaw wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again. While pursuing his PhD, Shaw wrote algorithms that allow sensors to interpret minute fluctuations along every electrical line in an aircraft or building. This information can help building managers find faulty equipment or wiring and help airplane inspectors pinpoint electrical malfunctions—before problems turn deadly. Now a professor at Montana State University, Shaw is equally adept at theorizing, coding and working in the machine shop. The California Energy Commission is testing Shaw’s advanced load-monitoring systems on several state buildings. Better information about electrical flow can help building managers decide when to fire up backup batteries, fuel cells or expensive gas turbines.