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Faculty Research Areas
Mechanical Engineering as a research field addresses a diverse mixture of problems in fundamental engineering science as well as applications. From soft-bodied robots to -superconducting materials to cell swimming at the microscale, our faculty is involved in a diverse array of innovative research efforts. With applications such as as making surgery less invasive, improving the education of engineers, and safely guiding airplanes into airports, these projects are excellent opportunities to solve many current everyday engineering problems.
Much of our research examines the world of liquids and gasses. In one lab, we seek to understand how bacteria propel themselves through microscopic channels filled with water. In another, we are improving the ability to move heat away from computer chips by mimicking how water rolls off a lotus leaf. In a third lab, we are modeling how blood flows through our body, and in another lab, we use fluids as a novel way of converting energy into different forms for more effective energy storage.
In our research, we look at materials from different viewpoints; from the atomic scale, and mapping how that affects macroscopic behavior, to the macroscopic viewpoint in modeling how materials fracture. We also examine how materials physically interact with each other at different scales. We look at how liquid metals behave in the absence of gravity, how different materials can be combined to allow energy to be transported without resistance (superconductors), how to store energy more efficiently, and how nanomaterials self-assemble in complex shapes. With a number of unique instruments developed by our faculty, we are studying properties of soft materials (polymers and cells) to the level previously inaccessible, and we can build mechanical sensors with a width less than that of human hair.
Our research concentrates on developing intelligent systems. Robots that can help the elderly pick up their glasses or grab a tissue require a combination of automated control, actuators, and sensors. Our professors work with cognitive scientists to better understand how to get robots to think and assist people. In another lab, faculty work on using automation to increase safety, developing algorithms to help quad-copters accurately know where they are and to ensure planes can land safely. We research large systems, with robots such as the Nao or the Baxter, and can make very small systems in our nano-manufacturing facility, where we can fabricate arrays of very small microphones to better understand and control the acoustics in an airplane.
Our department has a long history in product design. The Human Factors program is one of the oldest undergraduate programs in the country and concentrates on how to design and test inventions for a specific client. The research here is split primarily into two areas: medical devices and educational technologies. Our research in medical devices has led to a full usability testing facility. On the educational technologies side, our research has focused on understanding how the brain learns to engineer (collaborating with the School of Arts and Sciences Department of Education) and leveraging that understanding to develop new educational tools, in both hardware and software. We then collaborate with companies like LEGO Education, National Instruments, Texas Instruments, and others to put these technologies into classrooms for testing.
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