In Memory of Alan Cookson

Alan Cookson, past president of the DEIS (1993-94) passed away on March 28, 2021, in Houston, Texas at the age of 81. Alan graduated from Queen Mary College, University of London (England) with a B. Sc. (Eng.) in 1961 and a Ph.D. in 1965 in electrical engineering. His Ph.D. studies were performed at the internationally renowned Dielectrics Laboratory founded by the late Prof. T.J. Lewis (see Electrical Insulation Magazine, Vol. 35, 2019, pp. 68-69). After his Ph.D., Alan stayed on at QMC as a Research Fellow working with Prof. Lewis and Brian Ward (a fellow postgraduate student) investigating the statistical aspects and waveshapes of avalanches in the ionization and breakdown of compressed methane and other gases.  On completion of his Fellowship at QMC Alan worked as a Research Officer at the Central Electricity Research Laboratories (CERL) where he was responsible for designing and constructing the high voltage research test facilities. In 1968 Alan and his family moved to Pittsburgh where he joined Westinghouse.  Alan became the leader of several research projects on compressed gas insulation systems (GIS) and traveled extensively throughout the U.S., Japan, and Europe. During this time Alan’s creativity generated 32 patents and he published more than 60 papers on GIS, high voltage equipment, and circuit breakers.

In 1992 he accepted an offer to work at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland in a managerial role.  He very much enjoyed his work there, helping develop people around him through mentoring and encouragement. He retired as Deputy Director of the Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory in 2007.

Alan was a Fellow of the IEEE and also a Fellow and Chartered Engineer of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (formerly IEE). He received the DEIS Eric O. Forster Award for Outstanding Service in 1996, and the IEEE Millennium Medal for Outstanding Contributions in 2000. He was awarded the CIGRE Attwood Associates and also the CIGRE Distinguished Member Awards in 2005.  He also received the NIST Equal Employment Opportunity /Diversity Award in 2001.

Alan was very active in the DEIS.  He was the first and only editor of the DEIS Newsletter, the forerunner of the EI Magazine, from 1969 to 1985.  He was a member of ADCOM from 1986 to 2000.  He became Treasurer from 1986 to 1988 before being appointed Vice-President Technical, Vice-President Administrative and eventually President in 1993-1994.  He was the Chairman of the Publications Committee from 1995 to 2000, a member of the DEIS Awards and Recognition Committee from 1988 to 2018, and also a member of the IEEE Fellows Advisory Committee for over 30 years. Alan was the Editor of the Digest on Dielectrics in 1970 and a contributor to the Digest from 1968 to 1973.  He was a member of the Technical Advisory Committee of the CEIDP from 1983 to 1986 and the Chair of the Nominations Committee in 1988 and 1989. Alan also served on the Conference Board and Executive Committee in 1988 and 1989.  Alan was the Program Chair of the ISEI in 1980 and its General Chair in 1982.  He chaired a panel on th “Impact of Deregulation on R & D in the Electric Power Industry” at the 1998 ISEI. He also served on the International Advisory Committee of the ICPADM in 1997 and 2000.

His other IEEE activities included being the leader of the Gas Cable Group of the IEEE PES Insulated Conductors Committee (ICC) from 1975 to 1980.  He was also an active member of the IEEE Lamme Medal Committee, the Chair of the Search Committee from 1988 to1990, a member of the Award Committee from 1994 to 2001 and Chair of that Committee from 1996 to 2001. He was a member of the IEEE Awards Board from 1996 to 2000, the Standards Board for over 10 years, and also served on the Finance Committee (1989 to 1991), and the Publications Committee (1984 to 1988) and Board (1994) of the Technical Advisory Board (TAB).

Within CIGRE, Alan was involved in Study Committee 15, (Materials for Electrotechnology).  He was a U.S. Technical Expert from 1980 to 1997, before becoming the U.S. Representative from 1997 to 2005. He was the founder and Convenor of Working Group 21-12, “Compressed Gas Cables” from 1979 to 1981.  One of the most difficult tasks within CIGRE is to be a Special Reporter (SR) for a Study Committee during a main session of CIGRE held every two years. The SR has to read all the papers presented to the Study Committee, summarize them and prepare a list of questions for discussion at the main session. This involves having a thorough knowledge of electrical insulation and materials used in the power industry and the possible future issues with them. Alan was asked to be the Special Reporter for the 1994, 1996 and 1998 main CIGRE sessions and also for a session “Liquids and Liquid Insulated Systems” at a CIGRE Symposium on New and Improved Materials for Electrotechnology in Vienna in 1987.

Alan served on the Executive Committee of the International Symposium on Gaseous Dielectrics from 1982 to 2004 and was a Panel Chair in 1980, 1982, 1990, 1993, 1998, and 2001. He gave an invited talk “Compressed Gas Insulated Transmission Lines” in 1978.  At the IEE International Conference on Gas Discharges and their Applications, he served on the Executive Committee in 1982 and gave an invited lecture on “High Voltage Gas Breakdown and Insulator Flashover in Compressed Gases” in 1982.  He was Session Chair for the 1984 IEE DMMA and an International Advisor for the following meeting in 1988.  Alan was a member of the Council of the U.S. National Committee of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) from 1999 to 2015 and Chair of their Nominations Committee from 2001 to 2015.

Outside of work, Alan had many interests.  In the summer of 1961, he and three friends bought an old Jeep and drove to India through Greece, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan.  They camped out and became the objects of curiosity by the local people who were not used to seeing foreigners.   He played soccer and cricket as a teenager and continued these activities into adulthood. He coached his sons in soccer and also refereed games in addition to enduring mosquitoes when accompanying them at Boy Scout camps. He enjoyed sailing, playing tennis and golf.  After retirement he enjoyed photography, music, and going to Sanibel Island, Florida where he cycled, played tennis and walking on the beach pretending he was not looking for the perfect shell like everyone else. About ten years ago he and his wife Elizabeth moved to Houston to be nearer their grandchildren, Spencer and Presley.

Alan is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, who kindly supplied most of the information in  this obituary, sons Richard and Simon and two grandchildren as well as a brother and sister in England.

Thank you Alan for your many contributions.