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Why study Mechanical Engineering?

Mechanical Engineering is one of the broadest areas of engineering, covering dynamics and control, thermodynamics and fluid mechanics, structures and solid mechanics and design and manufacture.

Core to Mechanical Engineering process is the ability to formulate a problem, identify potential solutions, analyze and model solutions and select the most appropriate solution within constraints. This approach is integrated within the program and is applicable across a range of professions, making graduates well prepared for a changing world.

Research Areas and Major Fields

Mechanical engineering is perhaps the most “broad-based” of the engineering disciplines. The links below show that graduates from mechanical engineering can find exciting careers in aerospace, automobile design, consumer electronics, biotechnology and bioengineering, software engineering, and business.

Following are the major field areas:

#1 Biomechanical Engineering

Biomechanical Engineering is focused on the application of mechanical engineering principles to human healthcare problems.

This area has undergone dramatic growth during the last decade and seek to improve healthcare — and thus people’s lives — by identifying and working on important medical problems that can be addressed by improved technology.

Research in Biomechanical Engineering spans from long-term basic science questions to the practical development of translational technologies.

Highly multi-disciplinary in nature, and funded by NIH, NSF, other federal agencies and industry, these research are conducted with a variety of collaborators across different engineering departments at universities, and with faculty and students from different medical schools and research centers.

#2 Controls

Tracing its origins to J. C. Maxwell’s early work on speed governors (1868), control theory has evolved to play an integral role in the majority of modern engineering systems.

Mechanical systems are becoming ever more complex, yet performance requirements are increasingly stringent. At the same time, dramatic developments in microelectronics and computers over the past few decades make it possible to use sophisticated signal processing and control methodologies to enhance system performance.

The area addresses the broad spectrum of control science and engineering from mathematical theory to computer implementation.

On the theoretical side, faculty and graduate students pursue research on adaptive and optimal control, digital control, robust control, modeling and identification, learning, intelligent control and nonlinear control, to name a few.

On the application side, research teams engage in projects involving a variety of mechanical systems such as robot manipulators, manufacturing systems, vehicles and intelligent vehicle highway systems, motion control systems, computer storage devices and biomedical systems.

Courses in this area cover linear system theory, digital control, nonlinear control, adaptive control, modeling and identification, multivariable robust control theory, real time use of microcomputers for signal processing and control, and control of robot manipulators.

Graduate students also take courses offered in other departments such as Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

#3 Design

Faculty in the Design field of Mechanical Engineering work on problems affecting the analysis, synthesis, design, automation, fabrication, testing, evaluation, and optimization of mechanical systems.

Research activities include the following: design of mechatronic devices; sport equipment and safety gear; multi-media design case studies that improve a designer’s efficiency; tribological studies of computer disk-drive and micromechanical devices; design and fabrication of composite materials; fracture analysis; design and computer control of robotic systems for manufacturing and construction environments; design of bioengineering devices for studying back pain; and the development of automated manufacturing environments.

Students learn to develop integrated manufacturing cells and machines that contain automated material handling systems, machining, tool path planning, sensor systems, quality control, and error handling.

Students are exposed to broad fields including composite materials, micro electromechanical systems, laser machining and laser processing of materials, thin film fabrication, and tool wear. Traditional topics such as stress analysis, tribology, fracture mechanics, gear-design, transmissions, mechanics of materials, and basic manufacturing process analysis, are also thoroughly covered.

#4 Dynamics

At its heart, the study of dynamics is the study of motion. Whether this motion involves automobiles, aircraft or the change of economic indicators, dynamics can be used effectively to gain insight and understanding.

Research addresses a range of topics, including dynamical systems theory, vehicle dynamics, bubble dynamics, computer simulation of dynamical systems, vibration and modal analysis, acoustics and acoustic control, and the development of efficient computational methods.

Such research synthesizes numerics, experiments and theory, allowing researchers to address fundamental questions while staying aware of real life limitations. Courses are offered in linear and nonlinear dynamics, deterministic and random vibrations, and continuous systems.

#5 Energy Science and Technology

Energy related research in Mechanical Engineering encompasses a broad range of science and technology areas spanning a variety of applications that involve storage, transport, conversion, and use of energy.

Specific areas of ongoing research include hydrogen energy systems, combustion of biofuels, pollution control in engines, development of next generation compression ignition engine technologies, radiation interaction with nanostructured surfaces, laser processing of materials, nanofabrication using lasers, combustion in microgravity environments, development of nanostructured thermoelectric materials, concentrating photovoltaic solar power, solar thermal combined heat and power systems, energy efficiency and sustainability of data centers, waste energy recovery, high performance thermal management systems for electronics, and ocean energy technologies.

Research in these areas ranges from fundamental research, that aims to understand and/or model critically important processes and mechanisms, to applied research that explores new energy technology concepts at the application level.

#6 Fluids

Training in the Fluid Mechanics group provides students with an understanding of the fundamentals of fluid flow. At the graduate level, all students are typically required to complete a one-year course in fluid dynamics before specializing in particular areas.

In addition, students  get a firm foundation in analytical, computational and experimental essentials of fluid dynamics.

Research activities span the Reynolds number range from creeping flows to planetary phenomena.

Topics of study include suspension mechanics, dynamics of phase changes (in engineering and in geophysical flows), earth mantle dynamics, interfacial phenomena, non-Newtonian fluid mechanics, biofluid mechanics, vascular flows, chaotic mixing and transport of scalars, bubble dynamics, flow in curved pipes, environmental fluid dynamics, external aerodynamics, unsteady aerodynamics, bluff-body aerodynamics, vortex dynamics and breakdown, aircraft wake vortices, vortex merger, vortex instabilities, rotating flows, stability and transition, chaos, grid turbulence, shear turbulence, turbulence modeling, shock dynamics, sonoluminescence, sonochemistry, reacting flows, planetary atmospheres, ship waves, internal waves, and nonlinear wave-vorticity interaction.

#7 Manufacturing

There has been a resurgence of  manufacturing  in this this dynamically-changing field, which encompasses several subdisciplines including Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Materials Science and Engineering.

Manufacturing covers a broad range of processes and modeling/simulation/experimentation activities all focused on the conversion of materials into products.

Typical processes range from conventional material removal by cutting to semiconductor and nanomaterial processing techniques such as chemical mechanical planarization to additive processes such as  3D printing and spray processing.

Modeling and simulation attempts to predict the behavior of these processes to insure efficient and optimal performance.

A companion set of activities in sensors and process monitoring, automation, internet based design to manufacturing, cyber-physical infrastructure, quality control, reliability are part of manufacturing.

Manufacturing is receiving special attention at the moment in the United States as a driver of innovation and competitiveness and a major contributor to employment.

Overall, manufacturing combines classical topics in design, controls and materials processing.

The activity in manufacturing today is built on a long history of fundamental research and education by pioneers such as Erich Thomsen and Shiro Kobayashi.

Recent activities have moved away the more traditional areas of metal forming and plasticity to design and advanced manufacturing integration, new manufacturing technologies, specially for energy reduction and alternate energy technologies, precision manufacturing, computational manufacturing and sustainable manufacturing.

Much of the research includes development of tools for engineering designers to include the impact of manufacturing in the design process as well as, more recently, the life cycle impacts for the product.

Education and research in manufacturing is exceptionally well integrated with industry in terms of internships, research support and student placement.

Manufacturing continues to be a critical field for research and industrial development over many sectors.

All future energy, transport, medical/health, life style, dwelling, defense and food/water supply systems will be based on increasingly precise elements and components produced from increasingly challenging materials and configured in complex shapes with demanding surface characteristic.

This includes manufacturing products for an energy and environmentally aware consumer (such as autos, consumer products, buildings, etc.), manufacturing alternate energy supply systems (e.g. fuel cells, solar panels, wind energy systems, hybrid power plants, etc.), machine tools and the “machines that build the products” requiring less energy, materials, space and better integrated for efficient operation and efficient factory systems and operation.

This is all required in an environment of increasing regional, national and international government regulations covering all aspects of the manufacturing enterprise.

This means that for the foreseeable future, the field is expected to be well supplied with challenges to drive innovation in research and education.

In summary, modern manufacturing can be characterized by three basic processing strategies – additive, subtractive and near-net shape.

These are somewhat self explanatory in their names.

Near-net shape, aka forming/forging and molding techniques. Subtractive, for example, machining, is the “old standby” process used extensively in basic machine construction but is quite limited as applied to higher technology products.

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