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Sebo Still Passionate After 44 Years at Ohio State

By Candi Clevenger

As he walks in front of the standing-room only crowd, teens hold their smartphones high in the air to record his every move. The audience screams and jumps during the act and, following the grand finale, begs for an encore. He acquiesces and the crowd cheers.

Just another day in the life of a celebrity? Not exactly. These teens are standing in a university laboratory, albeit one that can create some of the biggest sparks and arcs in North America. The man with all eyes on him is none other than Steve Sebo, professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering.

Sebo has given High Voltage Lab demonstrations to thousands of people since the lab opened in 1994. Able to entertain diverse audiences from high school students to senior citizens, Sebo has a special knack for engaging people of all ages and technical levels with his infectious passion for high voltage and power engineering.

“I think that if you try to say things people understand, then no matter what their age, they will find it interesting and fascinating,” says Sebo.

Sebo led the effort to create the present High Voltage Laboratory in the first place. Planning began when the initial lab located in the former Communications Laboratory building, created by Professor Neal Smith, had to be moved due to the scheduled demolition of the building.

“It’s a unique experience when you go through the different phases of lab development, design, construction and so on, and then get to work in a new, modern, beautiful and useful lab,” says Sebo. “That was one of the highlights of my tenure at Ohio State.”

Few people know that Eva, Sebo’s beloved wife of four and a half decades, picked the bright green color of the High Voltage Lab walls, he says.

Watching his students develop and knowing they can do something useful after graduation are two of the reasons Sebo has enjoyed teaching at Ohio State for 44 years.

“When I think about my best students, it is more and more difficult because it is an expanding list. Many of them are absolutely brilliant and successful in life, and they deserve it,” says Sebo. “If they say that I started them along a long road then I am very pleased and humbled.”

As for research highlights, Sebo places a series of projects regarding AC/DC substation environmental effect performance investigations, sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), at the top of the list. Along with colleagues Ross Caldecott, Bob DeVore and Don Kasten, he built working models of substations that could be energized.

“We built several model substations, which is why it took 20 years to go through all sorts of different stations, components, arrangements and field experiments,” explains Sebo. “It was a fascinating series of research projects and was a very good effort for Ohio State to show how much we can do for the electric utility industry.”

Sebo’s interest in engineering began when he was very young and his father took him to visit a nearby train station and see the steam engines. Later he supplied Sebo with a series of metal erector sets that enabled him to build his own creations.

“I think my dad successfully steered me towards engineering,” Sebo explains. “He was an old-fashioned physician, so he made quite a few house calls, in the middle of the night too. You know, parents think that their kids should do better, so he thought I should not answer house calls during the night.”

Despite retiring in 2003 after 35 years with the ECE department, Sebo has remained active in teaching, research and outreach. He was also instrumental in raising the needed funds to open a
faculty position for his replacement, Assistant Professor Jin Wang.

At the end of winter 2012, Sebo celebrated the end of his last course, but plans to continue his other activities.

“I feel I still have the physical and mental strength to keep doing what I like,” he says.