MIT Reports to the President 1998-99


We are pleased to report that our department continues to be ranked the Number One Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Nation according to U.S. News and World Report.

The department's undergraduate enrollment this year was 375 of whom 113 were women. One hundred and thirty two students graduated with a S.B. degree in June. Our graduate enrollment was 392, and of this, 218 were S.M. students, 172 were Ph.D. students and 2 were pursuing the Engineers Degree. One hundred and forty three graduate degrees were conferred this year which comprised of 32 Ph.D.s, 109 S.M.s and 2 Engineer's Degrees.

Research in the department, both in basic engineering science and in technology innovation, continues to thrive. The new research effort on bio-instrumentation begun last year is now taking shape. Thirty-four members of our faculty and staff are actively involved in this effort which is being led by Professor Ian Hunter with the financial backing of Dr. George Hatsopoulos. It is our hope that this laboratory becomes the world's leading educational establishment devoted to the research and the development of advanced instrumentation. Its major objectives will be to produce instrumentation for use in the bio-medical areas (i.e., medicine and healthcare, bio-technology, molecular biology, physiology, biophysics, toxicology, pharmacology, cell biology). A strategic plan for this activity has been prepared and we hope that the MIT Corporation will identify this as one of the major focus areas for the ongoing MIT fundraising effort.

The department is currently attempting to strengthen its activities in Thermal Sciences by making several new appointments and by identifying new directions. The Center for Innovation in Product Development, funded by NSF, has continued to make a positive impact on the department and MIT. These activities are complementing other strong research efforts in the d'Arbeloff Laboratory for Information Systems and Technology, the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productive, the Manufacturing Institute, and in Engineering Science.

For some years now the department has been encouraging broad faculty interactions in order to address new intellectual challenges through, for example, the formation of large research groups. These research groups draw their intellectual base from the basic disciplines that are present within the department as well from those outside. We are pleased to report that this effort has begun to bear fruit in a number of exciting projects: Professor Sarma of our Manufacturing group and Professor Siu of our Information group have begun a new project which blends their respective fields. Their research objective is to develop the technology and information infrastructure that will monitor, track and control physical objects over the Internet. The technology developed will enable connectivity and inter-operability for large-scale applications such as industrial automation, equipment maintenance, supply chain management, inventory control, quality control and home automation.

Professor McKinley from our Fluid Mechanics group and Professor Mahadevan in our Solid Mechanics group have begun a joint project on the buckling of fluid filaments. Many other examples can be given including: The Open Mechanical Design Project (lead by Professor Nayfeh) which is an effort to develop an automated factory of the future following the open-source model that has been so successful in developing the complex, inter-operable, and portable software that holds the Internet together. He anticipates that MIT will become the permanent center for this diverse effort that draws from contributors from all over the world.

The department's research volume has been increasing rapidly in recent years. The total research volume in FY99 is estimated to be $20.6 million.

We are very pleased that we will be organizing a "mini-conference" next spring in order to explore how Information Technology affects the field of Mechanical Engineering. This will be open to other universities and government agencies and we intend to influence their thinking through this conference. In addition, we wish to help the community appreciate and participate in the rich variety of problems that exist in this area and enable our students in this field to lead the effort.

The department is heavily engaged in the Singapore-MIT Alliance. Professor Tony Patera is the Deputy Director of this program and a number of other faculty are, or will be, involved in the High-Performance Computation, Materials and Manufacturing Programs within this Alliance.

A number of new construction projects are under way. We have begun the renovation of some space adjacent to the Pappalardo Lab for use by graduate students. Unlike the Pappalardo lab, this facility will be available "after hours". We will developed plans, with the assistance of some undergraduates, to renovate the open space on the first floor of building 3 to build a student lounge. Architectural drawings have been developed for the renovation of the third floor of Building 3 as well as for the modernization of some classrooms.


We are continuing to implement our new Undergraduate Curriculum–fine tuning the details as necessary. The Designated Professors continue to work to develop the subject material and to ensure continuity between the different subjects. In addition, they are actively developing teaching materials, and in some cases writing textbooks, to serve students both at MIT and elsewhere. We believe that as the field of Mechanical Engineering continues to advance, ME departments everywhere will re-vamp and modernize their curricula and will follow our leadership. The MIT-Pappalardo Series of Mechanical Engineering Books is one effort in this arena.

We have discovered from data supplied by the Registrar's Office that many of our undergraduates have not completed their freshman introductory subjects at the time they enter our program; once admitted, these students often fall behind, never to catch up. The developing trend indicates that 65 percent of our sophomores and 34 percent of juniors and seniors have not completed the freshmen science requirements. This trend is institute-wide. We believe that this is not helpful to students and will begin working closely with the Registrar's Office to rigidly enforce the pre-requisites required for enrolling in ME subjects.

One of the radical ideas for improving the educational experience of our students has been proposed by our Faculty Committee on New Teaching Paradigms chaired by Professor Mary Boyce. This will require use of electronic media as well as more extensive independent and group use of laboratory facilities. The recommendation is to complement the paradigm shift with an enhanced learning environment. Each student will be provided with a "home base" in the department in the form of a study cubicle; these cubicles will be arranged in small groups and will enable our students to fully utilize and enrich the MIT experience by sharing ideas, studying together, and working on projects in a common area. The department will begin a fund raising effort in order to implement these ideas.

We have begun to look at our Graduate program as well. We want to maintain a curriculum which is appropriate for both students who will continue in a line of research as well as those who will enter industry. An ad hoc committee headed by Professor Ain Sonin made the following recommendations:

Under the leadership of Professor Lallit Anand, the Graduate Committee has re-organized the process by which we admit and recruit new graduate students. The Committee reviews all of the applications and selects those that are deemed admissible; this reduced set of applications are then divided by research area and then further screened by all faculty in the applicant's area of research interest. It is only then that the final decisions on admission are made. The Graduate Office invites all admitted students to campus on a specific weekend. The department covers the travel expenses of topmost students in this group. Once here, we allow them to interview us–they tour the labs, meet with faculty and current graduate students, and most importantly, make connections among themselves. We believe that this new approach brings us the best and brightest students. It shows that, while we maintain a high standard of admission, we care about the students admitted, their educational goals and allows the faculty to actively participate in this very important process. We are reducing the number of admitted students and increasing the yield.

The department felt that its activities in Engineering Science needed to be strengthened. An ad hoc committee chaired by Professor Triantaphyllos Akylas studied this issue and made the following recommendations:

We are considering all of the above steps to enhance Engineering Science. A Sub-Committee of both the Sonin and Akylas Committees, chaired by Professor Tony Patera, is continuing to look at restructuring the doctoral qualifying examination.


Our faculty members continue to receive major recognitions. Over the academic year 1998—99, the following faculty members were recognized for their various contributions:


We hired George Barbastathis, an optics expert, to start in Spring 1999. He comes to us with a Ph.D. from Caltech and after a post-doctoral appointment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Last year we also hired Nicolas Hadjiconstantinou whose field of expertise is atomistic simulations aimed at bridging the gap between the atomic and continuum scales. He deferred joining us for one year in order to work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Currently we have an offer pending to a senior faculty member from Caltech in the area of mechanics. We have three other searches in progress in the areas of Thermal Sciences, Nanoscale Engineering, and Large Systems/Complex Designs.

Mary C. Boyce was promoted to Full Professor.

John Brisson, L. (Maha) Mahadevan, and Kai-Yeung (Sunny) Siu were promoted to Associate Professor without Tenure.

We had no tenure cases this year.

We had no retirements this year.

More information about the Department of Mechanical Engineering can be found on the World Wide Web at

Nam P. Suh

MIT Reports to the President 1998-99