Campus remembers retired electrical and computer engineering professor

Dr. Edward Fagen, who was a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Delaware from 1974 to 1989, died on March 3, 2021 in Albany, New York.

Born in Chicago in 1931, Dr. Fagen graduated from Harvard College with an A.B. degree in engineering science and applied physics in 1952. In 1954 he received an M.S. in physics from Purdue University. He later served in the Army and worked as a physicist at a contract research organization before enrolling in a doctoral program in physics at the University of Pittsburgh. After graduating in 1967, he joined Energy Conversion Devices (ECD) in Troy, Mich. In 1974, Dr. Fagen joined UD’s then-newly created Institute of Energy Conversion (IEC), which is today believed to be the oldest continuously operating solar research institute in the world.

At IEC, Dr. Fagen studied the optical and electrical properties of several promising thin-film semiconductors for solar cell applications. During this time, he co-invented along with IEC colleague Vikram Dalal, thin-film stacked tandem solar cells based on amorphous silicon alloys, which formed the basis of a growing solar industry for 20 years.

Dr. Fagen later became a faculty member in electrical engineering, creating a new course in energy systems and receiving the University’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 1981. A brick with his name is in the Mentors’ Circle outside of Hulihen Hall.

Dr. Fagen continued to be an active researcher and received Department of Energy funding to study amorphous silicon-germanium alloys and how to fabricate this material into better thin-film tandem solar cells. This enabled three doctoral students to do their dissertation research on various aspects of characterizing the properties of this material.

Steve Hegedus, now a professor of electrical and computer engineering and senior scientist at IEC, was one of those three students. “We all went on to careers in solar cell and renewable energy research and education,” said Hegedus, who spoke at Dr. Fagen’s memorial service.  “This made Ed immensely proud.”

His three doctoral students remained in touch with him until the end. Hegedus followed Dr. Fagen’s footsteps, first as a scientist at the IEC then as a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He remembered Dr. Fagen this way: “Ed was a diligent and inspired experimentalist, a deep thinker about core problems that needed to be solved to advance solar energy. He was a lot of fun to be around and the most erudite person I have ever known. He was also a true renaissance man able to invent, design and make things with his hands. Ed’s greatest legacy is the students he taught, trained and inspired. ”

Dr. Fagen retired in 1989 and used his time to pursue his passions.

Charles Boncelet, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, remembers Dr. Fagen as a person with many interests. “He could be described as an old-fashioned scholar, interested in many things. He could hold a conversation on many topics.”

One of those was trains. “He liked trains and hoped to see a renaissance of trains in this country,” said Boncelet.

Dr. Fagen had a collection of working locomotive whistles, and from 1994 through 2003, he edited and published a quarterly journal, Horn and Whistle, for enthusiasts of acoustic devices used in signaling. In 2001, he published The Engine’s Moan, the definitive book on American steam whistles. He also published a memoir and multiple series of essays and poetry.

Article by Julie Stewart | Photo courtesy Steve Hegedus, background by Joy Smoker | April 15, 2021