MIT Reports to the President 1996-97


The Department of Mechanical Engineering has achieved a great deal in Academic Year 1996-97. Course II and Course II-A's new undergraduate curricula are making the intended impact on the quality of our undergraduate education. Faculty members are devoting a significant part of their effort to make the new curriculum successful.

The Department's new research effort in the field of information science and technology is progressing well. This is, in part, due to the strong faculty team active in the information area, some of whom have joined the Department recently. Similar efforts are being made in the fields of energy and bioengineering to strengthen the research infrastructure, consolidate existing activities, promote synergistic activities, and increase the external visibility in the fields of energy and bioengineering. Our newly established Center for Innovation in Product Development funded by NSF is expected to make a significant and positive impact on the Department's research and education. These activities are complementing other strong research efforts in manufacturing systems and engineering science areas.

The student enrollment in the Department has been nearly constant over the past decade with approximately 14% of all MIT sophomores, juniors and seniors and 382 graduate students.

The high cost of implementing the new curricula and enhanced educational activities that require more extensive laboratory support has placed a large strain on our budget. The Department also has a critical shortage of space which is impacting the quality of our educational and research programs. These are not new problems, but now we have reached a point where we are seriously compromising the essence of intellectual strengths of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

The Department of Mechanical Engineering continues to enjoy the highest reputation among all mechanical engineering departments in the United States. To maintain this tradition, we continuously re-examine all aspects of our educational and research activities.

Our departmental goals of the last five years have been as follows:

Education: To create future leaders in engineering, industry, research, academia, and society at large.

Our specific goals are: (1) to provide a broad-based engineering education, (2) to develop an ability to execute engineering tasks by providing students with an integrated view of engineering, (3) to encourage active learning, (4) to provide hands-on experience, and (5) to enhance the students' ability to deal with engineering tasks using both analytical and design skills.

Our graduate program is designed to provide professional and scholarly education for those interested in academic, industrial and research careers. We continue to emphasize original research as an integral part of graduate education.

Research: The Department is seeking to make impact on society, industry, academia, and the knowledge base by being the best at the two opposing ends of the research spectrum, i.e., fundamental knowledge generation and technological innovation.

Service: The Department is keenly aware of the fact that for MIT to succeed, we must work with other universities to improve the quality of education; and with industry, to help them become competitive and productive. Ultimately, we seek to improve the quality of life for humankind.

We revised the undergraduate curricula for Course II and for Course II-A to help us achieve these goals in all three areas. Course II-A is intended for those who seek education at the interface between traditional mechanical engineering and other disciplines such as biology, business, public policy, large systems, and information.

The Department formed large research groups in order to increase flexibility and intellectual opportunities. In addition to those in design, manufacturing, and information, we are in the final stages of forming large research groups in bioengineering and thermal energy. These research groups draw their intellectual base from the basic disciplines that are present within the Department as well from those outside.

Research programs of the Department are strong. The MIT-Industry Partnership for Engineering Excellence was formed to strengthen our research support base and to conduct long term research efforts in areas of industrial importance. Efforts are also being made to conduct large systems research programs to teach students all aspects of systems engineering by involving them in this type of research. The Department's faculty has taken a leadership role in creating an NSF funded Engineering Research Center. It was a highly competitive grant to obtain, in part because MIT already has an ERC in bio-processing. Many of the new faculty members have quickly established strong research programs with significant funding. We expect the Department research volume to increase substantially during the next academic year.

An ongoing effort is being made to solicit gifts from our alumni, friends and corporations to continue to strengthen the financial base of the Department. We need more senior chairs for faculty, better space for research and education, more fellowships for graduate students, and a funding base to initiate new research endeavors in areas that have not yet been explored.


Our new undergraduate curriculum in Course II has made a major impact for the betterment of the learning process for our students. An example is the new required subject 2.670 (Mechanical Engineering Tools). This two-week, 80 hour subject offered during IAP has changed the outlook of our undergraduate students. They learn the essence of engineering in this subject through acquiring computer and machining skills. This course also promotes a close fellowship among 150 sophomores at a scale never achieved before. Professors Douglas Hart and Kevin Otto received the Joseph Keenan Award for Innovation in Teaching for their initiative and effort in developing this subject.

The goals of our educational programs were previously stated in the introductory section. It is worth, however, repeating our ultimate goal: to produce future leaders for society, industry, academia, and in fact, in all walks of life. We think our students have all the ingredients necessary to become leaders and our intellectually gifted faculty can provide the mentorship they need. The Undergraduate Curriculum Committee has done an outstanding job of implementing the new curriculum under the leadership of Professor John Heywood who will pass this tradition to the new committee chairman, Professor David Gossard.

One of the major intellectual challenges of the new curriculum is that we have begun to work on the integration of subjects in the four required sequences:

Sequence 1: Mechanics and Materials

Sequence 2: Systems, Dynamics, and Control

Sequence 3: Thermodynamics, Heat transfer, and Fluids

Sequence 4: Design and Manufacturing

These efforts will be coordinated by "Designated Professors" who will be in charge of these subjects. They will determine, with the help of other colleagues, the course content, develop teaching materials, and establish faculty consensus. These professors will be at the center stage of the curriculum improvement.

We still face several challenges. The foremost is the need for continuing financial support to sustain our current activities to develop new teaching materials. One of the central concepts of the new curriculum requires a completely new set of teaching materials because we want to provide students with an integrated view of engineering by teaching, for example, thermodynamics, heat transfer, and fluid mechanics in an integrated manner. This process began concurrently with the new curriculum. We must maintain the current momentum to get the job done over the next three years. Considering the extreme importance of this effort, we should not be doing it at the margin due to the lack of funds.

The Department believes that in the long run, one of the key ingredients to improving education is the use of technology. We feel that technology enhances the learning process. Technology can play an important role in providing distance learning to our alumni and others. The Department created the Hypermedia Teaching Facility to begin the arduous task of developing teaching materials using hypermedia and web based technology. We made much progress, but decided to form a joint venture with the Center for Advanced Educational Services (CAES) due to cost considerations as well as for the overall improvement in its operation. The Department will continue to participate in the Hypermedia Teaching Facility, but the primary operational responsibility has been turned over to CAES.

The Department has revised the curriculum for Course II-A. The goal of Course II-A is to provide a more flexible curriculum for those interested in seeking a broader education than the more structured Course II. The six options currently provided under Course II-A are:

1. Biomedical Engineering and Pre-Medicine

2. Technology-Policy and Pre-Law

3. Management and Entrepreneurship

4. Large-Scale Systems Design

5. Information and Computation

6. Open Track

Our goal is to increase the enrollment of students in Course II-A substantially. Professor Seth Lloyd, the professor in charge of Course II-A, has initiated a number of activities to introduce the freshmen class to Course II-A. The goal is to have a total of about 150 students in II-A when it reaches a steady state operation.


One of the ultimate goals of the Department is to redefine the discipline of mechanical engineering in the area of research. Historically, mechanical engineering owes its origin to machinery, automobiles, and other mechanical equipment, which utilize force, energy, and motion. Through these devices, information, energy, motion, and force were both stored and transmitted. Over the last three decades, however, a significant fraction of information in these devices has been replaced by digital devices. Mechanical motion has been controlled by computers which provide intelligence. Micro-electrico-mechanical sensors have also expanded the intelligence of mechanical systems. New materials and new manufacturing techniques are changing the nature of mechanical products. These expanded capabilities are increasing the application areas in which mechanical engineers can play pivotal roles. Furthermore, future mechanical engineers must acquire a new set of knowledge to be able to deal with engineering systems that are not purely mechanical.

The Department conducts research in the following areas:

Research Group 1: Manufacturing Systems and Technology

Research Group 2: Design and Product Development

Research Group 3: Bioengineering and biomedical engineering

Research Group 4: Information Systems and Technology

Research Group 5: Energy systems and technology

These groups draw their intellectual strengths from all parts of MIT. Within the Department, the faculty members who are in the following three disciplinary divisions contribute to the Research Groups: Mechanics and Materials, Thermal and Fluid Sciences, and Design and Systems Divisions.

Research Groups 3 and 5 are being formed through active discussion among the faculty. The goal is to undertake large systems research projects, provide a better environment for research and education (especially for non-tenured faculty members), and establish new intellectual frontiers which can make important contributions to the knowledge base and technology innovation. One of the ideas actively being pursued is the creation of large laboratory units for greater collaboration, visibility, synergism, and more effective research fund raising. It has been the experience of the Department that junior faculty members associated with large laboratories such as the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity and the d'Arbeloff Laboratory for Information Systems and Technology have a better success rate in establishing their research activities. The intellectual infrastructure provided by these large laboratories must account for this difference.

The Department is also interested in reinforcing the engineering science base of the mechanical engineering disciplines. A strategic plan is being formulated to identify important intellectual issues that need to be addressed in the future. One of the changes we need to implement as soon as possible is the re-establishment of specialized graduate subjects with small enrollments because it is known that these specialized subjects make our Department and MIT, more attractive to potential graduate students. At this time graduate subjects with less than 10 students are offered only in alternate years due to fiscal constraints.


There are many short- and long-term challenges facing the Department. The foremost on the short-term list is the lack of space for the Manufacturing Institute and the Center for Innovation in Product Development. We need to have this issue resolved in the near future at the School and on the Institute level. Another space related issue is the renovation of Buildings 3 and 35 laboratories.

Another short-term challenge is the need to continue funding for curriculum development. We need to invest about $250,000 a year for three additional years. We will be seeking both external and internal support for this activity.

The Department has also initiated the MIT-Industry Partnership for Engineering Excellence with Silicon Valley Group, Inc. as its first partner. The goal of the program is to establish a long-term relationship with industrial firms so that MIT can conduct fundamental research in the partner firms' areas of interest. Both MIT and partner companies gain in achieving their mutual and individual goals. We are trying to expand this program.

We have initiated an important activity to strengthen and broaden our graduate educational program. Under the leadership of Professor Ali Argon, a faculty committee reviewed the current graduate program and made recommendations to introduce new graduate educational programs for those students whose interests lie in industrial careers. As a result of this effort, the Department is considering the following options, which require the approval of the faculty:


Create Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) Degree Programs for specific areas such as manufacturing, design, computation, etc.). These one-year programs will be offered to those students who have three to five year industrial experience and will require an industrially based project in place of a thesis and eight subjects -- 6 H level and 2 G level subjects.

The goal of the SDM Program is consistent with the Department's desire to educate people who can deal with engineering systems issues. Therefore, the Department is planning to participate in this program more aggressively, especially through the Center for Innovation in Product Development and the Manufacturing Institute.


As mentioned previously, the Argon Committee recommended that the Department consider creating a doctoral level degree program that can meet the needs of students interested in industrial careers. Among the rationale for such a program are:

The details of the curriculum for this type of doctoral program need to be developed. Many ideas, however, are being considered such as a thesis done in industry, systems related research, two major areas of study, etc.


One of the major accomplishments and events of the Department in AY 1996-97 was the dedication of the newly established d'Arbeloff Laboratory for Information Systems and Technology, which is the home for information-based research and teaching activities of the Department. The goal was to create a new educational and research paradigm in areas where sensor technology, software, communications technology, and traditional mechanical engineering disciplines merge. We assembled a strong faculty group in this laboratory representing a diverse set of disciplinary backgrounds. The faculty members include Professors Harry Asada (Director), Ian Hunter (Co-Director), Steve Dubowsky, Derek Rowell, Jean-Jacques Slotine, Seth Lloyd, and Sunny Siu. They have many active research projects, the largest being the Home Automation and Health Care Consortium.

Another dedication marked the growing support for the Department's efforts to provide training and use of current and future computational tools for undergraduate students of Mechanical Engineering. The Papken Der Torossian Undergraduate Computing Facility also serves as the electronic classroom for many Department courses as well as training in specialized software unique to mechincal engineering.


The faculty members continue to receive major recognition. Over the Academic Year 1996-97, the following faculty members were recognized for their various contributions:

Professor H. Harry Asada named Ford Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

Professor Warren Seering named Weber- Shaughness Professor.

Professor Neville Hogan received an Honorary Doctorate from Delft University.

Professor Peter Griffith received the J.P. Den Hartog Distinguished Educator Award.

Professor Kai-Yeung Siu received the 1997 IEEE Browder J. Thompson Memorial Prize Award for the best paper for all of their publications written by someone under the age of 30.

Professor Alex Slocum received the SME's Frederick W. Taylor Award. He also received four IR 100 Awards.

Dr. Stanley Gershwin was elected a Fellow of IEEE.

Professor Mary Boyce received the Ruth and Joel Spira Teaching Award.

Professor Anthony Patera was named the School of Engineering Professor of Innovation.

Dr. Henry Paynter, Emeritus, was elected to the National Academy of Engineering .

Professor Nam P. Suh was awarded the 1997 Ho-Am Prize for Engineering.

Professor Rohan Abeyaratne was elected Fellow, American Academy of Mechanics.

Professor Ian Hunter was elected to Newsweek's Century Club which named the

"100 people to watch as America prepares to pass through the gate to the next millennium".

Professor Alan J Grodzinsky and his student, Mike Buschmann, won the Melville Medal for the best original paper across the entire ASME.

Professor Anna C. Thornton was named the Class of 1943 Career Development Professor.

The Department continues to attract some of the most promising young faculty members. The following faculty members joined the Department in Academic Year 1996-97: Peter So, Assistant Professor, Interest in biomedical engineering, and Lakshminarayanan (Maha) Mahadevan, Assistant Professor, Interest in mechanics and materials.

Professor Peter Griffith retired on June 30, 1997.

Nam P. Suh

MIT Reports to the President 1996-97