Prof. Vernon Albertson’s pioneering research on the effects of geomagnetic storms has saved the electric utility industry millions of dollars by helping to prevent blackouts due to interference created by the sun’s solar flares.
Albertson, who died June 6 at St. Therese Hospice Center in Shoreview at age 86, was a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota and was instrumental in creating the Minnesota Power Systems Conference, which has become the premier event for the electric utility industry in the Midwest.
Albertson was born Sept. 28, 1928, in Syre, Minn., to Clarence and Hannah Albertson. He was one of seven children and the first from his family to graduate from high school.
In 1950, he received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from North Dakota State University. He went on to earn a master’s degree from the U in 1956 and a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1962 in the same field.
On July 8, 1951, he married the former Bernice Hanson. They raised five children.
From 1952 to 1954, Albertson served as a communications officer in the Air Force and then worked in private industry for two years. He was an assistant professor at Wisconsin-Madison from 1959 to 1963 before becoming a professor at the U.
Albertson was quick to strengthen ties within the power industry. In 1965, he co-founded the Minnesota Power Systems Conference to bring together industry experts and academics. He shared his research at the conferences, and it allowed others to share their ideas as well, said U colleague Prof. Ned Mohan. The 51st annual conference will be in November, and attendance has grown to more than 750.
Albertson’s research was on topics as diverse as measuring the currents from geomagnetic storms to the effects of stray electrical currents on milk production at dairy farms.
Albertson “was single-handedly responsible for creating the Center for Electric Energy, within the [university’s] Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, in 1981,” according to Mohan.
The center was a major achievement of collaboration by bringing together leaders from seven regional utilities. It is one of the longest and continuously funded centers at the U.
The curricula developed there are shared with 211 other universities across the country.
In addition to Albertson’s notable research and work to foster the growth of the electric energy industry, he was regarded as a classic teaching professor instrumental in helping people make good career choices.
Albertson took his teaching duties and mentoring responsibilities seriously, said Mohan, who counts Albertson as one of his personal mentors.
“He felt that it was his first and foremost duty to be a good teacher in addition to all the research he did,” Mohan said.
Proud of his heritage, Albertson and his wife made several trips to Norway where he researched family history. In 1981, Albertson forged a bond between the U and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and today the schools still have faculty and student exchanges.
Albertson is survived by his wife, Bernice; children Eric, Leif, Todd, Ann Jackson and Kara Mencel; 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
A funeral service will be at 2 p.m. June 18 at Incarnation Lutheran Church in Shoreview, with visitation one hour before the service.
There also will be a visitation from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. June 19 at the Anderson Family Funeral Home in Twin Valley, followed by a graveside service at Zion Lutheran Cemetery.