The waves come in and show you who’s boss.

Annette von Jouanne, 42

Electrical engineer and professor,
Oregon State University

SOME LITTLE GIRLS play “house.” Annette von Jouanne, at age 8, played “take it apart.” She plunged into her parents’ broken alarm clock, discovered a bad contact, cleaned off the oxidation, and put it, ticking, back on the shelf. She regularly fixed her Commodore 64 and even dismantled and reassembled the family TV in fevered electrical forays timed to her parents’ absence just to see how it worked. From age 10 on, she devoured her brothers’ college engineering textbooks to help guide her home investigations.

With similar intensity, von Jouanne learned to swim, first in pools, then in oceans, and now every day in the swim flumes she designed for her home’s basement. During regular family swim trips to the coast, the Oregon State University professor’s mechanical aptitude, physical passion, and religious conviction (she cites Psalms 93:4 as an enduring inspiration: “Mightier than the breakers of the Sea, the lord on high is mighty”) swirled together to generate an idea that would transform her into a pioneer for the then nonexistent field of wave energy. “Boy, when you’re riding those swells and getting tumbled, that really helps you gain respect for the raw energy in those waves,” she says “I’d come back each time thinking: if only we could harness that energy.”

So in 1998, at a time when wave energy was, at best, considered far-fetched, von Jouanne started writing grants and developing designs. “She was doing the really hard work of a lot of testing and modeling,” says Ted Brekken, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at OSU. “No one else was doing it.”

Today, the lab von Jouanne codirects, Wallace Energy Systems and Renewables Facility (WESRF, or “We Surf”), has lured some of the world’s leading wave researchers to Oregon and produced 12 successful prototypes and counting. She has helped land the National Marine Renewable Energy Center and a cluster of wave-energy start-ups at and around OSU. One collaborator, Columbia Power Technologies, is testing a one-seventh scale prototype in the Puget Sound. By von Jouanne’s calculation, wave energy could contribute 10 percent of Oregon’s energy by 2025.

“We are a world leader in terms of wave energy research,” says Solomon Yim, assistant professor of structural and ocean engineering at OSU and former director of the O. H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory. “Annette was the person who built that up and brought it to fruition. She is a missionary for wave energy.” —Aaron Scott