MIT Reports to the President 1999–2000


The Department of Mechanical Engineering has been working toward achieving these major objectives:

We have assembled a staff of very talented and creative faculty, implemented strong educational programs, established organizational infrastructure and physical facilities that are suitable for cutting edge research, and generated strong external support for our research and education to achieve these goals. We have made significant progress toward achieving all of our objectives. The department is stronger than ever by any measure — second to none.

Transformation of the discipline of mechanical engineering

Several powerful forces have been changing the field of mechanical engineering.

The Department of Mechanical Engineering has established the following as the objective to lead in the transformation of mechanical engineering discipline:

To transform the field of mechanical engineering from a discipline that has been primarily based on physics into one that is based on physics, information and biology.

We have created the d’Arbeloff Laboratory for Information Systems, the Center for the Auto-ID Center, the Hatsopoulos Laboratory for Micro-Fluid Dynamics, and the Laboratory for Bio-Instrumentation, in addition to reinforcing the traditional areas of the department’s strengths in engineering science, design, manufacturing, internal combustion engine, and systems to achieve this goal. New faculty members with appropriate educational and research expertise were hired from such disciplines as physics, computer science, electrical engineering, and chemical engineering, in addition to traditional mechanical engineering disciplines. As a result, the department has very strong faculty and programs.


Undergraduate Program

The Department of Mechanical Engineering has about 400 undergraduate students–slightly smaller than five years ago. We have about 32% women students and 49% minority students.

The Department of Mechanical Engineering has embarked on a three pronged approach to improving undergraduate education: new curriculum structure, new instructional pedagogy, and the creation of modern teaching facilities. We have made much progress in all three areas.

The structure for our new undergraduate curriculum emphasizes four important elements of learning: the delivery of integrated knowledge of engineering disciplines, active learning, hands-on experience to gain a sense of engineering tasks, and the simultaneous teaching of analysis and synthesis in a single sequence of required subjects. It has four core sequences: mechanics and materials; thermal and fluid sciences; design and manufacturing; and dynamics, systems and control. The first class to graduate under the new curriculum did so in 1999. In addition to core subjects, we have developed new elective subjects. For example, Professor Siu has created a sophomore level internet subject and Professor Lloyd has created a senior/graduate level subject in information and probabilities.

Fourteen Designated Professors are working in teams to develop core sequences in four areas. They are developing teaching materials--books, web-based materials, experiments and new teaching paradigms. These book writing efforts have been possible thanks to the "Pappalardo Curriculum Development Fund"–an endowment fund created by Neil and Jane Pappalardo. The books written by the Designated Professors will be published by the Oxford University Press under a new series–the MIT-Pappalardo Series of Mechanical Engineering Books. The Pappalardos share our dream of educating people worldwide better through the development of teaching materials.

The Committee on New Instructional Paradigms, under the leadership of Professor Mary Boyce, has developed a plan to introduce three new approaches to learning: "Scientific Discovery" mode of learning, "Socratic" modes of learning, and "Just in Time" of mode of learning. These ideas will be implemented under the MIT-wide initiative called the I-Campus Program.

With this curriculum in mind, we have modernized our educational facilities over the past several years. The Pappalardo Laboratories is the ideal setting for hands-on experience in design studio and machine shop for students. The AMP Laboratory also provides hands-on experience in the field of materials, and the d’Arbeloff Laboratory is the home for the study of mechatronics. The Der Torossian Computer Laboratory is where students learn their computational engineering, and the Cross CAD/CAM Laboratory will enable us to implement a "Just in Time" mode of learning.

In addition to these facilities, we are actively seeking funds to convert the Main Parking Lot into an atrium. The Committee on New Instructional Paradigms has proposed that we create cubicles for all our undergraduates around the edges of the atrium. This undergraduate space will enhance the reputation of MIT as a residential university by letting students learn from each other on a more interactive basis. We may have promising leads for the necessary funds, but do not have a firm commitment.

Although it is much too early to assess the relative quality of education they received, the new curriculum heightened the awareness of the importance of undergraduate education at MIT. In 1996, the department created the "Keenan Award for Teaching Innovation" to augment the "Den Hartog Award for Teaching Excellence". The recipients to date of the Keenan Award are Douglas Hart and Kevin Otto, Mary Boyce, and David Wallace. Five of mechanical engineering faculty members have been recognized by the Institute as the McVicar Faculty Fellows for their teaching excellence. The most recent recipients are Rohan Abeyaratne and Ernest Cravalho.

Graduate Education

Our graduate program is strong. According to statistics we have, we attract some of the best available graduate students in the country and the matriculation rate is higher than our sister institutions. External ratings support this contention. Our goal is to attract more of the best students in the available applicant pool to our department. The department has about 400 graduate students–17% of S.M. candidates are women and 7% of doctoral students are women. Minority students make up 13% of our graduate student body; foreign students make up 35%.

In 1999, we decided to reduce the number of graduate students we accept (from about 200 to 150 from an applicant pool of 650) and increase the yield by making the department more competitive through more fellowships–and by being more hospitable to those admitted. In 1999 and again in 2000, we had a special weekend orientation session for the best 50 students we accepted. Also with the support of the central administration, we increased the number of fellowships. As a result of all these actions, the number of financially guaranteed students who chose MIT increased to 73% in 1999 from 36% in 1998. We will continue to reduce the number of admitted students and attempt to increase the matriculation rate.

The number of new graduate subjects offered has increased with the addition of new faculty members and expansion of our research interests. At the same time, some of the subjects we used to offer have been eliminated to make room for new subjects. We offer new subjects in areas such as optics, manufacturing systems, design, the Internet, mechanics, information, and biophysics.

The department has been putting a large fraction of its resource into the support of its graduate programs. Since all professors teach only one subject a term, with the rest of their time being devoted to research and supervision of graduate students, one might surmise that more than 50% of the faculty effort ultimately goes into the graduate program.

Our graduate program has undergone changes by addition of more subjects related to engineering systems, design, optics, bioengineering, and information. Recently, the faculty members in the d’Arbeloff Laboratory–under the leadership of Professor Harry Asada–have created a series of "Gateway" subjects. The goal is to enable our graduate students in mechanical engineering to take advanced graduate subjects offered in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science without taking all the pre-requisite subjects required for these EECS subjects. The creation of these new subjects has been made possible with the addition of new faculty members whose expertise lie in some of these fields and through the shifting research interest of our faculty members.

The department is one of the largest producers of Ph.D. level mechanical engineers in the country. One of the key steps in guaranteeing the quality of our doctoral graduates is the doctoral qualifying examination. An ad hoc faculty committee has been reviewing the doctoral examination–the goal, the process, the contents, and the results of the examination. We will introduce changes in the examination to reflect the diverse base of our research programs and faculty interests.


Research–Emphasis on the two ends of the research Spectrum

Our basic research covers all areas of fundamental importance: solid and fluid mechanics, thermal science, control, design, materials, systems, and bioengineering. Our recent technology innovations have ranged from new manufacturing technologies, information based technologies, the Internet based technologies, quantum mechanical computers, bio-mechanical devices, bio-instruments, two-photon microscopy, software for design, new materials, ultra-fast and accurate PIV algorithms, wear resistant seals, new polymers and polymer processing techniques, new machine elements, and many others.

To facilitate research in these areas, we have created the d’Arbeloff Laboratory for Information Systems, Auto ID Center, Laboratory for Bio-Instrumentation, and the Hatsopoulos Laboratory for Micro-Fluid Dynamics. These new laboratories and centers have augmented and complemented other laboratories such as the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity, the Sloan Automotive Laboratory, the Cryogenics Laboratory, the AMP Laboratory, the Center for Innovative Productive Development, and the Rohsenow Heat and Mass Transfer Laboratory.

On the basic research side, we have had a real burst of original research that has attracted worldwide interest. A few examples will be briefly given here. Associate Professor L. Mahadevan, who is a leading academician in mechanics/applied mathematician/classical physics, has published many papers that explain many physical instability phenomena, (including folding of paper, buckling of liquid columns, and motion of falling cards), and biological phenomena (such as the motility of cells and the helical structure of DNA). His publications in Nature and Science have attracted even the interest of the popular press. The work done by Associate Professor Peter So on two-photon microscopy is letting us see the motion of molecules below the skin, which may someday enable us to deal with cancer cells non-invasively. The work on algorithms by Associate Professor Sunny Siu on the Next Generation Internet will not only increase the speed of the Internet but also affect manufacturing, inventory control, and many others. The fast and accurate PIV algorithm developed by Associate Professor Douglas Hart is affecting many fields in addition to fluid mechanics. Associate Professor Seth Lloyd and others in the department comprise one the leading groups in the country in dealing with the issue complexity and complex systems.

On the technology innovation side, our department has made major impacts in many different fields through major technological innovations that have been transferred to industry. Examples are: 3-D Printing by Professor Ely Sachs, DBM (Droplet Based Manufacturing) by Associate Professor Jung-Hoon Chun, Microcellular Plastics and Acclaro (software for designers of hardware, software, and others) by Professor Nam Suh, a PC-based controller by Professor Harry Asada, artificial skin by Professor Ioannis Yannas, Charge-Decay NDE and DOME by Associate Professor David Wallace, lithography stage by Associate Professor David Trumper, seals by Associate Professor Doug Hart, haptics innovation by Associate Professor Sanjay Sarma, and many others.

We also have many exciting research projects as a result of synergism between faculty members with different backgrounds. We have created the Auto ID Center, under the leadership of Associate Professor Sunny Siu and Assistant Professor Sanjay Sarma, with substantial financial backing from many major corporations to combine the Internet and the passive RF tags for the purpose of replacing and expanding the bar code technology. The standards and technologies that will be developed in this center may make a profound impact on even the "Just in Time" mode of learning. It is really heartening to see so much collaboration: between theoreticians and designers, between optics specialists and bioengineers, between manufacturing specialists and the networking specialists, and between specialists in quantum physicist and engineers. These teams create new technologies and theories involving students with the focus on their education.

Our expansion into information technology deserves a special mention. Five years ago, we decided to expand our activities in the information area because future mechanical engineers will not be able to practice their profession and become leaders unless they are deeply rooted in information technology. With the generous support of Mr. and Mrs. Alex d’Arbeloff we established the d’Arbeloff Laboratory for Information Systems. Many activities are taking place in the Laboratory, including the Auto-ID Center, Home Healthcare Automation Consortium, research on quantum mechanical computers, and others.

InterDepartmental and Institutional Programs

Many faculty members are participating and taking a leadership role in the Singapore-MIT Alliance (SMA). This greatly benefits the department. For example, we are launching our "Master of Engineering In Manufacturing" Degree program, using the resource that has been made available by the SMA to the participating faculty members in the manufacturing part of the SMA. This one-year professional degree program will be available only to those with three or more industrial experience.

Two of our faculty members (Professors Roger Kamm and Ioannis Yannas) have taken up two-key appointment by taking up 1/2-time positions in the newly created Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Health.


We have been fortunate to have major supporters for the department who made it possible to update, renovate, or create new facilities. The Pappalardo Laboratories continue to be used heavily by all undergraduate students taking 2.670, 2.007, 2.009, and other subjects. Its highly flexible and reconfigurable design makes it extremely versatile.

The d’Arbeloff Laboratory includes one mechatronics teaching laboratory that provide home our elective subjects, in addition to providing research facilities.

The AMP Laboratory continues to serve 2.002 students well.

The Der Torossian Computer Laboratory is always over-flowing with students taking many subjects that require computation. It will be an even more important resource as we try the "Just-in-Time" mode of learning.

Recently we have undertaken the construction of the Cross CAD/CAM Laboratory in Building 35, the home of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity (LMP), and the Cross Student Lounge in Building 3. These facilities have been possible with the generous gift of Mr. Ralph E. Cross, who has also given a senior chair and funds to support LMP.

We will be constructing the BJ and JH Park Lecture Halls in Building 3 to replace the old style classrooms 3-270 and 3-370 with a large classroom, a medium size classroom and two small classrooms, beginning in Summer 2000. These new lecture facilities will enable us to try two new modes of instructional paradigm: "Scientific Discovery" and "Socratic" modes of learning. Dr. Park is an alumnus of our department.

We are also preparing to renovate the second floor of Building 3 to create the Hatsopoulos Laboratory for Micro-Fluid Dynamics. It was made possible by the generous gift of Dr. George N. Hatsopoulos and Mrs. Daphane Hatsopoulos. They also established a senior chair in the department.

Like any expanding departments on campus, the Department of Mechanical Engineering needs more space. A few of our needs are listed here:


We have a poor record of finding and attracting women professors. It has been a difficult experience. At one point, we increased the number of women professors to four, but now we have only two women professors (one tenured and one not yet tenured) and one visiting professor. We have made special efforts, but the end result has been dismal. We will continue the effort.

We have done a little bit better in increasing under-represented minority professors. We found an extremely bright researcher and he is an outstanding teacher among our Ph.D. students. He has already taught our undergraduate students and received raving reviews. Marty Culpepper will be joining us as an Assistant Professor beginning in January 2001 after a short industrial tour to gain a perspective on industrial challenges.


The Department of Mechanical Engineering has vigorous and innovative programs that befits an institution for creating future leaders.

It has a strong new undergraduate educational structure, outstanding facilities and new learning paradigms under development. Fourteen Designated Professors are creating new teaching materials and new teaching methods, which will be published in a special series of the Oxford University Press. This should benefit all educational institutions throughout the world.

The department has successfully initiated new research groups in information and Bio-Instrumentation, which augment the more traditional research groups in other areas. Furthermore, faculty members in these new research areas and in the more traditional areas are generating new research topics and paradigms, which show a promise of creating new knowledge base and leading to new technological innovations.

The department is attracting a large number of outstanding graduate students who thrive in its exciting research and educational environment. We are increasingly becoming more competitive through creation of new subjects and new research strengths at the crossroads of science and technology.

Through all of these efforts, the Department of Mechanical Engineering is approaching its goal of "Transforming the discipline of mechanical engineering from that which has been primarily based on physics to one that is based on physics, information, and biology."

More information on the department can be found on the World Wide Web at

Nam P. Suh

MIT Reports to the President 1999–2000