In Memory of Jitka Fuhr Aschwanden

Dr.-Ing. Jitka Fuhr Aschwanden passed away suddenly in a tragic car accident on July 26, 2020.

Jitka (Holečková) was born in Kolin, a small historic town 60 km east of Prague in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (CSSR) on October 29, 1947. During her education in primary and secondary school, she attended music school and studied piano for 10 years. In 1967 she passed the entrance examination for the Technical University of Prague. She began to study electrical engineering in Prague in the 1967–1968 academic year. In 1968, during the Prague Spring, Jitka was on a leave in England, when the Russians occupied CSSR. On her way back home from England to CSSR, she decided to stay in Germany and to continue her studies at the Technical University Aachen. In December 1973 she graduated from the Technical University ‘Fridericana’ in Karlsruhe with a master’s degree (Dipl-Ing.) in electrical engineering, specializing in high voltage technology under Professor Adolf Schwab. From 1974 to 1980, she worked as a development and design engineer at Brown Boveri Company (BBC) in the transformer factory in Mannheim.

In this first job at BBC she became familiar with the design and testing of large power transformers. From 1980 to 1985, Jitka was a scientific staff member at Hahn-Meitner-Institute for Nuclear Research (which became the Helmholtz-Zentrum in 2009) in Berlin-West, where she investigated the electrical breakdown mechanism in dielectric liquids in the insulator group of Dr. Werner Schmidt. In December 1985 she was awarded the title Dr.-Ing. (PhD) from the Technical University of Darmstadt with her thesis “Experimental investigation on the time-dependency of electrical breakdown in liquid hydrocarbons,” under Professor Wolfgang Pfeiffer.

From 1985 to 1988, Dr. Jitka Fuhr was a research associate at the Polytechnic University of New York (Prof. Eric Kunhard), where she taught graduate students in the fields of electro-physics and high voltage engineering and was also an advisor to PhD students in the high voltage laboratory. Returning to Europe in 1988, Jitka joined Tettex Instruments in Zürich, Switzerland, a manufacturer of high precision measuring instruments for high voltage laboratories and dielectric testing of insulating materials. Here, she was responsible for the development of new applications of partial discharge (PD) measuring systems. In 1989 Jitka Fuhr entered the ABB Corporate Research Center in Baden-Dättwil (Switzerland), where she was a leader of the project “PD-diagnosis of electrical power equipment.” In 1995 she moved to the ABB transformer factory in Geneva (ABB Sécheron), where she was responsible for the development and application of advanced diagnostics methods (“fingerprints”) for condition-based maintenance of power transformers. In 2001 she began working as an expert in the ABB Business Area “Power Transformers” for solving PD-related problems. In this role, she supported more than 20 ABB transformer factories worldwide.

In 2007 Dr. Fuhr began to work as a senior consultant for the Swiss utility BKW Energy Ltd. in the field of condition assessment of HV components (generators, transformers, and GIS). In 2012 she founded her own company, AF Engineers + Consultants GmbH, in Iseltwald, (Switzerland), together with her husband Dr. Thomas Aschwanden. Her activities as an independent consultant were focused on design review and factory acceptance tests, condition assessment, and root cause analysis of failures in all types of power generation and transmission equipment, in particular in power transformers and power generators. Due to her profound skills and broad experience, her consultancy work was very successful and included a lot of traveling to clients in Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa.

Throughout her career, Jitka made many important contributions to the understanding of electrical breakdown processes in dielectric liquids and in the diagnostic methods for condition assessment of large power transformers, with particular emphasis on the detection and analysis of partial discharges and the subsequent degradation of insulation materials. Jitka Fuhr pioneered the application of advanced PD-measuring techniques with on-site testing of large power transformers. She is a co-author of the ABB book Testing of Power Transformers and Shunt Reactors, and her broad experience gained over decades working in the fields of high voltage testing and partial discharge diagnostics are documented in more than 50 technical papers presented at international conferences and published in peer-reviewed technical journals. In addition to her daily work, Jitka was a member of IEEE (M’04), including DEIS, the IEEE Transformer Committee, Electrosuisse, and the mirror committees in Switzerland of IEC TC14 and TC 42. She was active in CIGRE Study Committees A2 and D1 for many years, being the convenor of Working Group D1.29 “Partial discharges in power transformers,” which published the CIGRE Technical Brochure 676 (2017).

Besides her professional work, Jitka loved hiking and skiing in the mountains. She lived in Iseltwald (Switzerland) since 2009, a small village at the shores of the lake of Brienz (10 km from Interlaken). Swimming in the cold water of the lake of Brienz was her passion. Another passion was literature and classical music. Jitka never traveled without a book in her handbag, and she very much enjoyed live performances of outstanding pianists and orchestras. She regularly attended the concerts during the Lucerne festival. However, whenever possible, Jitka wanted to stay in her cottage on Eggberge, her refugium in the Swiss Alps, to enjoy the nature, to recover in the magic scenery of the surrounding mountains, and to work in a relaxing environment (most of her scientific publications were written here).

Jitka had a vibrant and energetic personality, and she radiated a cheerful, positive energy. She was able to communicate in English, French, German, Czech (her mother tongue), and Russian. With her charming and straightforward style of communication, she easily convinced friends, colleagues, clients, and business partners with her arguments. At conferences during the coffee break, you knew she was in the room; she was never alone. She connected with people; drew them out; and got them smiling, laughing, discussing technical points, and telling stories. She was strong-willed and worked hard, but it was her unique personality and great charisma that touched everyone she came in contact with. Last but not least, she was an important role model for young women entering our field, with whom she actively engaged and strongly encouraged. Jitka was an outstanding individual and a talented engineer who was taken from us far too soon, and she will be very sadly missed by all of us who were lucky to know her and to work with her.

Jitka Fuhr is survived by her husband, Thomas Aschwanden, and her daughter, Jana, along with relatives and friends, to all of whom we extend our deepest sympathy. Jitka will be greatly missed by all of us.