MIT Reports to the President 1997-98


The Academic Year 1997-98 has been a particularly successful one for the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Course II's new undergraduate curriculum has made a positive impact on the quality of our undergraduate education, and faculty members have devoted a significant effort to make the new curriculum successful. New textbooks are being written to emphasize the new pedagogy that stresses the integration of disciplinary knowledge.

The Department continues to thrive in research, both in basic engineering science and in technology innovation. The Department began a new research effort in the field of bio-instrumentation. This focus arose through the collaborative efforts of our faculty in the bioengineering area, some of whom have joined the Department recently. Similar efforts are being planned in the field of energy to strengthen the research infrastructure, consolidate existing activities, promote synergistic activities, and increase external visibility. The Center for Innovation in Product Development funded by NSF has begun to make a significant and positive impact on the Department's research and education. These activities are complementing other strong research efforts in the d'Arbeloff Laboratory for Information Systems and Technology, the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity, the Manufacturing Institute, and Engineering Science. The research in these areas is well funded by industrial firms and government agencies.

The MIT-Pappalardo Series of Mechanical Engineering Books will be published by Oxford University Press, which is created with the endowment fund given by Mr. and Mrs. A. Neil Pappalardo. The books expected to be published in this series should have a major impact on Mechanical Engineering education at MIT and elsewhere in perpetuity.

The student enrollment in the Department has been nearly constant over the past decade with approximately 400 sophomores, juniors and seniors and 400 graduate students.

The high cost of implementing the new curriculum, particularly the increased requirement of hands-on and laboratory experiences, 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 they continue to have a serious negative impact.

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 an 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, information and bioengineering, we are actively working towards forming a large research group in thermal energy. These research groups draw their intellectual base from the basic disciplines that are present within the Department as well from those outside.

The 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 research volume has been increasing rapidly in recent years. The total research volume in FY98 is estimated to be $23,329,932, and is 10% greater than FY97, 28% greater than FY96 and 54% higher than FY95.

This increase is, in part, due to several large research projects related to development of complex engineering systems. This is a result of our attempt over the past several years to teach more systems related topics through involvement of graduate students in execution of large R&D projects. These large projects are typically interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary. Students working on these projects learn about the systems aspect of engineering, in addition to disciplinary research issues. These systems projects will complement our traditional strengths in investigating well focused disciplinary research projects.

The Department's research support base is broad. Our research is supported by government agencies, many different industrial firms, and foundations. Some contracts and grants are administered through the Department and by the interdepartmental laboratories or centers. The funds come in as overhead bearing research contracts and grants or as gifts which has a limited overhead burden. Federal government support is 35%, industrial support is 54%, and foundation support is 11%.

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.


Course II: Implementation of New Undergraduate Curriculum

Our new undergraduate curriculum 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.

The Undergraduate Curriculum Committee has done an outstanding job of implementing the new curriculum under the leadership of 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 are being coordinated by "Designated Professors" who are in charge of these subjects. They, with the help of other colleagues, are determining course content, developing teaching materials, and establishing faculty consensus. These professors are at the center stage of implementing the new curriculum.

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. One of the most exciting developments of this year has been the establishment of the MIT-Pappalardo Series of Texts in Mechanical Engineering which will be published by Oxford University Press. This effort has been made possible by the generous endowment made by Jane and Neil Pappalardo. The proceeds from this fund will enable faculty to spend time during the summer, and even the academic year, on producing educational material.

Course II-A

The Department has implemented its revised 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.

Graduate Curriculum

A committee under the leadership of Professor Ain Sonin has begun to examine our graduate curriculum. During the coming academic year they will make recommendations to the Department concerning both fine tuning the current program as well as major innovations as may be needed.


Innovation by the Faculty and Students

The Department has a strong research program, ranging from basic research to technology innovation. Many seminal papers and patents have resulted from these research projects. The topics range from mechanics applied to biological systems, nonlinear dynamics of bubbles, computational mechanics, design of quantum mechanical computers, biomechanics, design of products, design theory and methodology, to manufacturing processes and systems, microcellular plastics, new sealing technology, rapid prototyping, ATM, precision stages, high speed machines and tools, instrumentation, nanoelectromechanical devices, to combustion processes in IC engines.

Large Systems Research Projects

Most academic research is comprised of small scale projects involving one professor working with a limited number of students. It is difficult to do research on large system design and manufacturing issues in this context. A part of the problem is developing a working relationship with industrial firms willing to fund such a large project. The Department has begun to work on large systems projects in collaboration with and with the support of industrial firms. Students and faculty are designing and manufacturing a large system for semiconductor industry under the leadership of Professor Jung-Hoon Chun, Dr. Andre Sharon and Dr. Nannaji Saka through the Manufacturing Institute. Professor Ian Hunter is leading an effort for a large project with the sponsorship of a bioengineering firm. System research is also being conducted in the d'Arbeloff Laboratory for health care automation under the sponsorship of a consortium of industrial firms led by Professors Harry Asada and Ian Hunter. Other large projects are also being negotiated with industrial firms.

New Laboratory for Bio-Instrumentation Systems

The Department created a new Laboratory for Bio-Instrumentation Systems. The faculty group in bioengineering and related fields have chosen instrumentation for bioengineering and biomedical sciences -- measurements, devices, control, and information required to deal with biological and medical sciences -- as one of the Department's focused areas of excellence for two reasons. First, advances in instrumentation will be a pre-requisite in making further progress in biology and medicine. Second, the Department is the home for the basic disciplines needed for bioengineering instrumentation including materials, manufacturing, information, optics, mechanics, controls, thermal science, mechanics and design. Thus, the Department's effort in this area will provide the "third leg" of the biology-medicine-engineering triad, which will dominate socio-economic activities of the 21st century, and at the same time, strengthen the basic disciplines of Mechanical Engineering.

MIT has a long and impressive record of successful instrumentation research. Many of the instrumentation laboratories in the past at MIT primarily developed instrumentation for military applications (e.g. Radiation Lab., Draper Lab., Lincoln Lab.). Our Laboratory for Bio-Instrumentation Systems has as its major objective to produce instrumentation for use in the bio-medical areas (e.g., medicine and healthcare, bio-technology, molecular biology, physiology, biophysics, toxicology, pharmacology, cell biology). These areas are growing very quickly with a voracious appetite for instrumentation. It is our objective to make the new MIT Laboratory for Bio-Instrumentation Systems the world center for advanced bio-medical instrument research and development.

Last year, 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. Since then, we have added an additional research project sponsored by SVG. We now have similar relationships with Cadus and Caterpillar with million plus funding for an individual program.


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, the Center for Innovation in Product Development and the Laboratory for Bio-Instrumentation Systems. 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 the laboratories in Buildings 3 and 35.


The two major accomplishments of the Department in AY 1997-98 are the establishment of the MIT-Pappalardo Series of Texts in Mechanical Engineering to be published by Oxford University Press, and the formation of the Laboratory for Bio-Instrumentation Systems. The text book series, which has been made possible by the generous gift of Mr. & Mrs. A. Neil Pappalardo, will have an impact on Mechanical Engineering education everywhere, while the Laboratory will enable modern developments in Biology to have their intended impact on the practice of Medicine.


The faculty members continue to receive major recognition. Over the Academic Year 1997-98, the following faculty members were recognized for their various contributions: Professor Ali Argon - ASME Nadai Medal; Professor Mary Boyce received the Keenan award and the Bose Award; Professor Doug Hart received the Bose Award; Professor L. Mahadevan was named the Karl Van Tassel Career Development Professor; Professor Rohan Abeyaratne was elected Fellow, ASME.

Professors Wai Cheng, Alexander Slocum and Kamal Youcef-Toumi were promoted to the rank of Full Professor.; Professors Frank Feng, Doug Hart, Seth Lloyd and Kevin Otto were promoted to the rank of Associate Professor without tenure.

The Department continues to attract some of the most promising young faculty members. The following faculty member joined the Department in Academic Year 1997-98: Samir Nayfeh, Assistant Professor, Interest in design.

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

Nam P. Suh

MIT Reports to the President 1997-98