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Our History

Cover of 150th History

The University of Michigan is home to one of the world’s top mechanical engineering programs, with a rich history and a strong, clear vision for the future. We continue to shape the field by generating new paradigms in mechanical engineering.

The ME Department at UM began in 1868 as a humble, two-room laboratory with one professor. Today it includes:

  • 72 tenured or tenure-track faculty

  • 19 research faculty and lecturers

  • 55 staff

  • More than 850 undergraduate students

  • More than 500 graduate students (including over 250 Ph.D. students)

  • 16,000 living alumni

Department Chairs

  • 1881 to 1904: Mortimer E. Cooley
  • 1904 to 1917: John R. Allen
  • 1917 to 1937: Henry C. Anderson
  • 1937 to 1940: John E. Emswiler
  • 1939: Ransom S. Hawley (Interim)
  • 1940 to 1951: Ransom S. Hawley
  • 1951 to 1955: Edward T. Vincent
  • 1955 to 1956: Wyeth Allen
  • 1956 to 1965: Gordon Van Wylen
  • 1965 to 1966: Arthur Hansen
  • 1966 to 1974: John A. Clark
  • 1974 to 1975: J. Raymond Pearson (Interim)
  • 1975 to 1978: J. Raymond Pearson
  • 1978 to 1981: David Pratt
  • 1981 to 1982: Richard E. Sonntag (Interim)
  • 1983 to 1992: Richard E. Sonntag
  • 1992 to 1998: Panos Y. Papalambros
  • 1995: James R. Barber (Interim)
  • 1998 to 2001: A. Galip Ulsoy
  • 2002 to 2007: Dennis N. Assanis
  • 2007 to 2008: Panos Y. Papalambros (Interim)
  • 2008 to 2018: Kon-Well Wang
  • 2018 to present: Ellen Arruda

1868-1900: Creating the Department

1900-1940: Building National Prominence

1940-1970: Entering the Modern Era

1970-2000: Leadership in High-Technology

2000-2018: Redefining Mechanical Engineering for the 21st Century

1868-1900: Creating the Department

ME was founded in 1868, when engineering professors and students numbered in the dozens and the only engineering curriculum was in civil engineering. Professors DeVolson Wood and Stillman Robinson requested that the University offer a separate specialized course to focus on the new fields of machine, power, and marine engineering. Although the regents voted in 1868 to create the program, the first of its kind in the U.S., the University lacked the resources to maintain it, and two years later it was reabsorbed into civil engineering, where it remained for the next 11 years.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) was not established until 1880. It wasn’t until Mortimer E. Cooley, a naval officer, came to Ann Arbor in 1881 that ME at Michigan gained an independent identity. Cooley, an 1878 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, was one of a number of naval officers appointed by Congress to university facilities. His assignment was to establish an ME program. Over the next three decades, his leadership laid the foundation for a thriving department.

In the beginning, the ME curriculum consisted of Workshop Appliances and Processes; Pattern Making, Moulding and Founding; Mechanical Laboratory Work (Shop Practice in Forging); Machinery and Prime Movers (Water Wheels and Steam Engines); Machine Design; Thermodynamics; Original Design; Estimates, Specifications, and Contracts; and Naval Architecture.

The first mechanical laboratory was built under Cooley in 1882. At the time, engineering classes were held in the South Wing of University Hall, but there was no laboratory building. To remedy the situation, Cooley used an appropriation of $2,500 from the Michigan legislature to construct and equip a two-story laboratory building. Plans for the building were put together by ME faculty member J. B. Davis. According to and earlier history, “it was a two-story structure of frame construction with bricks placed edgewise between the studding. The ground floor was divided into two rooms, the foundry on the east end and the forge shop, brass furnace, and engine room on the west. The foundry also included two flasks, other necessary foundry tools, and molding sand. It is important to note that the shop contained the first steam equipment in the ME Laboratory, a forge, anvil, tools, a brass furnace, and a four-horsepower vertical fire-box and steam engine. The second floor was also divided into two rooms, one of which was occupied by the pattern shop and the other by the machine shop. The equipment in these rooms consisted of a wood-turning lathe built by Cooley and members of his class, and an iron lathe, salvaged from the basement of University Hall and repaired by the students. The building was heated by an old-fashioned stove on the second floor. In cold weather, ice was melted in a pail of water on top of the stove in order to increase humidity.”

In his first report to the regents, Cooley described the original course taught in the new laboratory: “Six students were permitted to take the first laboratory course held in the building. They were engaged for a large share of the time in overhauling and erecting machinery in the shop. The remainder of the time was devoted to grinding and putting in order the cutting tools, in performing some of the simpler operations at the workbench, in preparing work for the iron lathe, in wood-turning, forging, brazing, and soldering, and in running the engine.”

In his memoir, The Scientific Blacksmith (1947), Cooley wrote:  “How well I remember my first class in this little shop. Six engineers were taking the course. The first lesson was at the forge. I taught them how to build a fire. Then I wanted a piece of iron to heat. At the back door there was a wagonload of scrap of different kinds of metal, and I sent the members of the class to bring me back a piece of wrought iron. Much to my surprise not one of the six could identify wrought iron, cast iron, steel, or anything else in the pile. I asked the differences between the various kinds of metal, and every last one of them knew the chemical differences and the process of manufacture, but not one of them could identify one piece of metal from another. That incident thoroughly convinced me of the need from practical work to acquaint engineers with the characteristics of the materials they would be using after graduation.”

Cooley was soon dissatisfied with the four-room laboratory. In 1883, he convinced the University to donate to the Department the carpenter shop that had been used in the construction of the University library. It was dismantled and attached to the Mechanical Laboratory. In 1885, construction of a new laboratory building was authorized by the regents, and the original lab, just four years old, was torn down to make room for it. Additional space was acquired for the Department in 1891 when the dental building was given to the engineering program for classroom space.

To supplement the learning experience of the laboratories, Cooley and the other faculty arranged for students to undertake inspection visits to neighboring businesses. An entry in the University catalogue of 1890 describes this program: “As often as may be practical, visits will be paid to the neighboring manufacturing establishments for the purpose of acquiring a knowledge of the methods employed in building and in the construction of bridges, machinery and ships. In the spring of 1886, members of the classes in civil and mechanical engineering spent a week, under the guidance of Professor M.E. Cooley, in visiting industrial works at Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.”

During the 23 years of the Cooley era, the Department acquired a strong curriculum, launched its first successful building program, and formed a strong relationship with business and industry. In 1904, Cooley was named dean of the College of Engineering, a post he held for the next 24 years.

1900-1940: Building National Prominence

With a foundation well laid in the Cooley era, the ME Department, as well as the entire engineering program at Michigan, was primed to step into a leading role in engineering education in the early decades of the 20th century. Drawing students from across the country and throughout the world, the engineering student body grew tenfold over the next 40 years; graduate degrees were offered for the first time; laboratories were updated and equipped with modern instrumentation; and independent research projects became important academic endeavors along with the education of students. The University strengthened its relationships with industry and other schools. Interdisciplinary programs leading to joint degrees with either law or business schools were created. The Department grew from a fledgling organization to one of the nation’s leaders in mechanical engineering education.


In the 1800s, ME had emphasized steam power and manufacturing machinery almost exclusively, but the world of science and industry was changing and the Department changed as well. By 1940, the curriculum for the bachelor’s degree had grown to include 54 courses with 74 semester hours of preparatory work, 50 hours of secondary and technical work and 16 hours of electives. Semester were 16 weeks long. Courses were grouped under these headings:

  • Steam Power Engineering

  • Internal Combustion

  • Hydro-Mechanical

  • Heating, Ventilation and Refrigeration

  • Industrial

  • Automotive

In 1910 Felix Pawlowski, a young scientist from Poland, arrived in the U.S. At the University of Paris, he had taken the first course in aeronautical engineering ever given; now he was determined to become America’s first aeronautical engineer. When he sent letters to engineering colleges around the country requesting the chance to start an aeronautics program, he mostly received negative replies. The field was too new, and there was no assurance that it would amount to anything.  However, Mortimer Cooley appointed Pawlowski to Michigan’s ME faculty and encouraged him to create a course of study in aeronautical engineering. The course was begun in 1914, the first of its kind in the U.S., just 11 years after the Wright brothers’ historic first flight at Kitty Hawk. The first degree in aeronautical engineering was awarded in 1917.


An advanced educational program requires advanced facilities, and the Department’s growth in this area kept pace. The building that would be the symbol of Michigan engineering over the next 70 years was constructed in 1904 — the West Engineering Building, now West Hall. Its laboratories were among the most sophisticated in the country for the time, including several in ME:

General Mechanical Engineering Laboratory

The equipment consisted of steam power machinery and apparatus; internal combustion engines; air compressors; refrigeration machinery; and heating and ventilating apparatus; as well as the auxiliary apparatus for use in testing the various machines.

Hydraulic Laboratory

This occupied a space of 40-by-60-feet on two floors. A canal four feet wide and six inches deep conveyed water from the naval tank to a well which furnished the suction supply for the pumps. A fifteen-inch centrifugal pump geared to a 150-hp variable speed motor returned the water through two weighing tanks, each holding 600 cubic feet, to the naval towing tank. Nearby, the canal was provided with bulkheads, screens, weirs, and nozzles arranged with bulkheads dividing it into basins each 100 feet long, and by means of a sluice in the bottom connecting the canal with pumping systems.

Physical Testing Laboratory

Materials were tested for strength in this laboratory.

Highway Laboratory

Tests were made on all materials used in road or pavement construction.

Walter E. Lay: Automotive Engineering

The automotive engineering program was an example of how the Department responded to new directions in industry. The Department’s program in automotive studies began in concert with the beginnings of the auto industry in nearby Detroit. In 1913, the Department offered its first automotive course, Gasoline Automobiles. In 1916, Walter Lay joined the faculty with a mandate to create a laboratory and an entire automotive slate of courses. The first he designed featured a full day’s road test of a motor vehicle —either a single-cylinder Oldsmobile engine, a 1910 Krit, a 1907 air-cooled Franklin, or a 1911 Franklin engine.

By 1914, at the beginning of World War I, ME had gained a strong reputation in automotive engineering and was called upon by the government to help in the war effort. Over the next few years, faculty trained 1,081 Army personnel in automotive engine repair.

Following the war, Lay carried out pioneering research in cooperation with nearby automotive manufacturers. The laboratory was one of the first to present comprehensive experimental data showing the advantages of streamlining. Another important project was a cooperative study with the Michigan State Highway Department to determine optimal highway grades, balancing cost of construction against operational cost of cars and trucks climbing the grades. Other studies were on engine heat balance, testing and improving of automotive parts, car safety, car noise, and riding comfort. By 1937, equipment in the Department’s automotive laboratories consisted of motor vehicles, engines, transmissions, axles, superchargers, carburetors, mufflers, all the major units used on aircraft, motor vehicles, tractors and some marine applications of internal combustion engine power, electric dynamometers, water brakes, air meters, fuel meters, tachometers, and potentiometers.

Industrial and Production Engineering

The birth of the automotive industry also established southeastern Michigan as the home of US manufacturing, with world-changing innovations such as the moving assembly line and interchangeable parts. During this same 40-year period, industrial practices and processes in all branches of manufacturing changed dramatically, and in response, the Department created a program on the leading edge of the discipline. The changes began in 1915 when a course inspired by Gilbreth’s “scientific management” was introduced called Scientific Shop Management. It featured the study of applications of scientific management in manufacturing plants. During World War I, this course was expanded to include two courses in the preliminary training of officers of the Ordnance Department of the Army – the first such course offered by an American university. (The program was eventually expanded to 173 hours of study, and the first degree was awarded in 1926 to William Alden Capen who later became superintendent of the Keeler Brass Company in Grand Rapids).

Orlan W. Boston and manufacturing science

In 1921, Orlan W. Boston joined the faculty. Dean Cooley assigned him the task of developing courses that would coordinate the disciplines of design, metallurgy and production. Under Boston’s leadership, the emphasis in the plan of instruction moved from that of manual training to the teaching of principles related to modern industrial practice. The Department soon was playing a major role in establishing the scientific basis for manufacturing processes, such as machining operations (e.g., turning, milling, drilling). In addition to curriculum development, Boston also initiated research projects, including pioneering investigations on the principles involved in the machinability of metals. In 1934, Boston was made the chair of the Department of Metal Processing within ME and in 1936 was named Custodian of the Gaging and Measuring Laboratory of the Detroit Ordnance District. By 1935-1936, enrollment in metal processing courses was so large that crowded sections were taught every half-day during the week.

Stephen P. Timoshenko and applied mechanics

Stephen P. Timoshenko was a member of the faculty from 1927 to 1936. During that period at Michigan he formulated, through his research efforts, the essential rules for how structures deform under stress. As a key figure between the World Wars, he became the world’s leading authority in applied mechanics. He established the foundations of the theory of the elastic behavior of solid matter, and he introduced scientific and mathematical approaches to mechanics instruction. Under Timoshenko’s leadership, Michigan became the first university in the nation to offer bachelor and doctoral programs in engineering mechanics.

Timoshenko also made important contributions in the use of the energy method in problems of structural stability and buckling, and the formulation of the differential equation for lateral vibrations of beams, including the effects of shear and rotational inertia. He was the first to formulate the basic differential equation for the problem of torsion of structural sections and the first to obtain the shear center of a beam.

He introduced scientific and mathematical approaches to the teaching of mechanics. During his tenure, Michigan established the first bachelor’s degree program in engineering mechanics in the U.S. as well as the first doctoral degree. During the course of his career, Timoshenko wrote 18 textbooks that were translated into 36 languages. His work and his acclaimed textbooks gave birth to the science-based engineering education that is now the standard all over the world. Timoshenko was the recipient of numerous honorary degrees and medals in both the US and Europe, and in 1948 the ASME named a medal after him to honor his contributions.

By 1940, the Department was well established as one of the leading mechanical engineering programs in the country.

The production engineering group carried out world-recognized research on surface roughness measurement and machinability of exotic materials as requested by the War Production Board during World War II. In this group were Orlan W. Boston, Robert Caddell, Lester Colwell, Joseph Datsko, William Gilbert and Kenneth Ludema.

1940-1970: The postwar era

The three decades following World War II brought remarkable changes to the Department reflecting changes in the worlds of science and industry. During this era, the space race began, new technologies were developing in industry, and the Cold War demanded advanced military systems. Both government and business turned to universities for expertise in meeting these challenges. For the first time, funded research projects sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Defense, and industry became an important focus of Department activity. The graduate program expanded dramatically as a result and undergraduate education began to incorporate new technologies and methodologies. In COE, Mechanical Engineering played a lead role  in responding to these changes, creating a modern curriculum and building a research-oriented faculty.

The Department had split and merged with various engineering programs over the years; in 1956 it experienced another such change. Industrial engineering was becoming too large and prominent an area to remain as a subset within Mechanical Engineering. The first solution was to elevate it to department status within Mechanical, and the Department was renamed Industrial and Mechanical Engineering. Two years later, the industrial engineering component split off to become a separate entity. The faculty in that group was split, some going to the new department, called Industrial and Operations Engineering, some staying in Mechanical as the Production Engineering group.

Another change during this time was the establishment of the University of Michigan’s Dearborn branch in the late 1950s. ME faculty, including Raymond Pearson, Axel Marin, Howard Colby and Gordon Van Wylen, were instrumental in the creation of the ME program at the new campus.

Another program that came to life with the help of ME faculty was the Bioengineering Program in the College of Engineering. ME Professor Glen Edmonson was its founding father, establishing the group and arranging for the original funding. The Bioengineering Program continues today as the Biomedical Engineering Department in the College.

In October 1968, the Department hosted a two-day centennial celebration. A report on the activities, edited by Charles M. Vest, then an assistant professor, was published in 1973. The report documented the Department’s position as a leader in modern engineering education and research.


The new emphasis on research during this era was seen in traditional areas such as automotive and production engineering as well as in newly emerging technologies such as space, nuclear, and automation engineering. Along traditional lines, one of the first ME faculty to be heavily involved with basic research was Edward, who investigated heat transfer in gas turbine rotor disks and wrote Gas Turbines, the first book of its kind, which brought Vincent international distinction. The production engineering group carried out world-recognized research on surface roughness measurement and machinability of exotic materials as requested by the War Production Board during World War II. In this group were Orlan W. Boston, Robert Caddell, Lester Colwell, Joseph Datsko, William Gilbert, and Kenneth Ludema.

Other important research included the Orthetics Research Project in the School of Medicine to develop assistive devices for the upper limbs of disabled persons. ME researchers on this project included Raymond Pearson, Robert Juvinall, Rune Evaldson, and Robert Hess. The project was sponsored by the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $100,000 per year.

One of the first environmental impact studies having to do with control of exhaust emissions of power plants was carried out by Clay Porter in cooperation with civil engineering faculty.

Research exploring newly emerging technologies started receiving strong support in the Department during Gordon Van Wylen’s tenure as chair. He was the first to pursue money for basic research from the government when he went to the Army Ballistic Missile Center (a precursor to NASA) in Huntsville, Alabama, and obtained funding for the project “Discharge of Cryogenic Liquids from Tanks.” Throughout the 1960s, faculty members Wen-Jei Yang, Herman Merte, Vedat Arpaci, and John A. Clark worked on it and other space projects that had impact on the design of NASA’s Saturn launch vehicle.

Research related to nuclear power was carried on in the 1960s on projects funded by the government. Two examples were Frederick G. Hammitt’s work on cavitation in liquid metal used in breeder reactors and Edward Lady’s doctoral research on boiling at low head flux.

In another emerging technology, Lester Colwell did pioneering work on numerical control of machines. The total contract research conducted in ME labs through the 1960s was estimated at $1.1 million. The publications of the faculty from their research and teaching in these laboratories numbered about 80, including three textbooks.


As research activities expanded, so did the graduate program. In the first seven decades of the Department’s existence, it conferred only 21 Ph.D. degrees. From 1940 to 1970, that number soared to 151. In line with these changes, the Department began to actively recruit faculty members with doctoral degrees.

In 1958, graduates and undergraduates in the Department received a first taste of a technology that would one day revolutionize engineering education and research. Several faculty members were released from teaching duties to participate in the Ford Foundation-sponsored Project on the Use of Computers in Engineering Education. They learned about the University’s mainframe computer and how it could be used in teaching and research. Faculty began to assign key punch computer problems in classes.

In 1961, to keep pace with all of these changes, the undergraduate program was completely revamped. Gordon Van Wylen, then ME’s chair, described the reorganized curriculum in the 1961 departmental annual report: “A complete reorganization of the undergraduate laboratories has been effected. Each of the undergraduate laboratories will be made an integral part of one of the classroom courses and both will be handled by the same faculty member. It is anticipated that this will make the lab work a more significant educational experience for the student and that the theoretical and experimental aspects of engineering will be more effectively related to each other.” This new educational approach was copied in the following year by many universities across the country.


By the early 1950s, it was apparent that the College’s old buildings were no longer adequate for the level of research activity and the growth in the educational programs. Chairs of ME complained that their classrooms and laboratory space in the East and West Engineering Buildings were woefully inadequate. Some relief was provided by a partial move to new buildings on the North Campus. In 1956 the Walter E. Lay automotive laboratory was completed and occupied. The state of Michigan had provided the construction costs of $1.85 million, and Michigan industries added $500,000 for equipment (including facilities for testing 15 engines at a time). Steelcase had donated the furniture, and International Nickel Company donated a mobile laboratory. In 1958-1959, researchers in thermodynamics, heat transfer, and fluid mechanics moved to new laboratory facilities in the G.G. Brown Building on North Campus.

Researchers and students in ME also began to have access to extensive on-campus computing facilities. In 1953, the Michigan Digital Automatic Computer (MIDAC) was designed and built at the Willow Run Research Center. It was one of only 20 high-speed electronic digital computers in the country – the second in the Midwest. It was said to be “some 20,000 times faster than a professional mathematician using a desk calculator,” ( TechniUM + No. 18, June 1980) and in 1959, the Board of Regents authorized construction of a new Computing Center on North Campus, with powerful mainframe computers and a terminal system known as the Michigan Terminal System (MTS).

1970-2000: Leadership in High-Technology

When the Department was established in the late 1800s, an engineer needed to prepare for a career in railroads, surveying, shipbuilding or manufacturing. In every era since then, the role of the mechanical engineer has evolved and expanded to include new industries and fields, including automotive engineering, hydraulics, cryogenics, space technology, and nuclear power. The last 30 years of the 20th century were no exception as the field expanded into new areas of high technology including lasers, solar energy, automation and control, acoustic emission, composite materials, and flexible manufacturing. In addition, many of the activities of the mechanical engineer were transformed by easy access to one of the most influential developments of any era – the computer, which came to permeate the everyday world of business and industry. Computers made it possible to explore many problems in traditional research areas that were previously inaccessible. In response to these developments, the Department also underwent significant change. Sponsored research and graduate programs grew rapidly; researchers expanded beyond the University to create high-tech businesses arising from their studies; the first female faculty member, Maria Comninou, joined Applied Mechanics in 1974; the first African-American faculty member, Elijah Kannatey-Asibu, Jr., joined ME in 1983; the long-awaited move to North Campus was realized; and the Department gained strength through its merger in 1979 with the Applied Mechanics Department, acquiring the new name Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics (MEAM).

The MEAM External Advisory Board (EAB), which was formed in 1993, made important contributions. The board was comprised of ME’s chair and business leaders (including many MEAM alumni) representing a variety of industries, all of which had a high interest or experience in MEAM disciplines. The board provided advice and counsel on matters related to the needs of industry. The Department also established the ME Student Leaders Board (MESLB) to advise the Chair on major issues from the student perspective.

As MEAM looked toward the next millennium, the Department created its 1997-2000 Planning Document. The document, which was put together with extensive input from faculty, staff, students and EAB members, served as a road map that charted MEAM’s future in the areas of academics and research, with a strategic goal to be recognized as one of the top three mechanical engineering departments in the country. By 2000, the Department was ranked consistently among the top five departments by U.S. News & World Report and the National Research Council, and occasionally among the top two or three. Thirteen percent of ME Faculty were now female — the largest percentage of any ME department in the country at the time.


The research focus that had begun some 30 years earlier came into its own in this era as total research expenditures climbed from about $500,000 per year in the early 1970s to over $20 million in 2000. This enabled steady growth in the doctoral program. This emphasis not only increased engineering knowledge but also enriched the educational experience of all MEAM students. Researchers pursued interests in many areas of high-technology as well as in traditional areas.

John A. Clark’s work in the area of solar energy was an example of research in a new field. The energy crisis of the mid-1970s sparked a search for alternative energy sources, and solar energy was considered one of the most promising. Clark established the Department’s Solar Energy Laboratory in 1973. It was the chief source of technical advice and research for all the solar energy companies in Michigan from 1973 to 1985. Clark carried his activities into the private sector as the technical director of Star Pak Energy Systems Company, which developed and marketed the devices conceptualized in the U-M solar lab.

ME made strides in traditional areas as well. In the decade of the 1970s, important automotive research was carried out by Donald Patterson, William Mirsky, Jay Bolt and David Cole. One example was a project supported by a three-year grant from a consortium of industrial firms. The purpose was to see if thermal reactors could control emissions as well as catalytic converters. Industry was interested because thermal reactors would have allowed the continued use of leaded fuel. The group’s research revealed the limitations of thermal reactors, paving the way for universal use of catalytic converters. Another important development was the establishment in 1978 of the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation (OSAT) by David Cole. OSAT was the only ongoing university-based group in the country that focused on a study of strategic issues in the automotive industry; it continues at the non-profit Center for Automotive Research. The OSAT staff examined the auto industry from every angle, researching a range of topics from industry competitiveness and labor relations to forecasts of technical and market trends.

Automotive faculty were among the first to carry their technology beyond the University in establishing private companies. Cole, Mirsky and Patterson were among the founders of MI Automotive Research for testing automotive engineers and products. The firm spawned another small company, Engine Test Instrumentation, Inc. Later the group founded QED Environmental Systems to manufacture a pump design they invented for obtaining water samples around dump sites. These three firms combined to employ 150 people in the Ann Arbor area. Departmental depth and technical and scientific expertise in the automotive area also led to the establishment in 1994, under the leadership of Panos Papalambros and colleagues, in partnership with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), the Automotive Research Center (ARC) which continues today. The emphasis on automotive engineering also led to the creation of several other related and ongoing centers and research facilities, including a new $5 million General Motors Satellite Research Laboratory, which was established at the U-M in 1998, also under Papalambros’s leadership. This partnership then grew into several such collaborative research centers with General Motors research labs on automotive engines (Dennis Assanis), automotive assembly (Jack Hu) and smart materials (Diann Brei).

The emerging field of robotics research became important during this period, and saw many major and lasting contributions from the research conducted in the ME Department by Yoram Koren and Johann Borenstein. They developed a potential field method for mobile robot navigation, an electromechanical snake robot, an electronic guide cane for the blind, and many other robotic technologies. Their mobile robot CARMEL took first place in the 1992 artificial intelligence robotics competition. The traditional areas of manufacturing research also flourished during this period, expanding in areas of measurement and automation and new processes such as laser processing and additive manufacturing. Elijah Kannatey-Asibu used acoustic emission sensing for tool wear and breakage monitoring, and conducted research in welding and laser processing. Jyoti Mazumder conducted research on laser processing of materials as well as additive manufacturing using laser metal deposition. A Center for Dimensional Measurement was established by Sam Wu with funding from industry and the NSF. Wu, together with his students, Jun Ni and Jack Hu, also established the “2-mm Program” with funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the automotive industry. This program used in-process dimensional measurement during assembly of automotive bodies to improve dimensional accuracy. It had a major impact on the U.S. automotive industry, and has been cited by NIST as one of its most successful programs. After Wu’s untimely death in 1992, the Department hired his former students Jun Ni and Jack Hu; they co-directed the S. M. Wu Manufacturing Research Center, which was named in his honor.

Yoram Koren and Galip Ulsoy developed the concept of Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems, which was crucial to the establishment, in 1996, of the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems (RMS). This was the first ERC at U-M.  With grants from the NSF, leading Michigan manufacturers and the state of Michigan, the ERC/RMS would develop RMS-enabled factories capable of readily designing new production systems, sensors, controls, and machining equipment. The ERC/RMS was a massive and effective response to industry’s need for flexible manufacturing and speedier machine transformations during a time of rapid technological change — and with the creation of the world’s first reconfigurable machine tool in 2002, Michigan engineers helped to enable factories to respond quickly to market demands, reduce product-development time and expense, offer more choices to consumers, and become a driver of economic growth.

Other research of this period includes work by Samuel Clark (adhesion and reliability of flexible composites); Maria Comninou (crack closure and contact at interfaces); Deba Dutta ( computer aided design and manufacturing); David Felbeck (failure and toughness of engineering materials); Julian Frederick (ultrasonic imaging and acoustic emissions); Kenneth Ludema (rheology and tribology); Christophe Pierre (vibration and wave localization in spatially repetitive structures with imperfections); Albert Schultz (biomechanics of mobility impairments in the elderly); Richard Scott (optimization of layered composite media vibration and wave propagation in rotating elastic structures); Leonard Segel (vehicle dynamics); George Springer (structure of rarefied rocket plasma); Gretar Tryggvason (bubbles and droplets); Wen-Jei Yang (thermal fluid phenomena in biological, anatomical and physical systems); Vedat Arpaci (efficient drying versus pulse combusters); Michael Chen (thermocapillary flows in welding and crystal growth); and Herman Merte (forced convection boiling in microgravity).


In 1983, the Department completed the move to North Campus that had begun some 30 years earlier.  Now all faculty, staff and students occupied new laboratories, offices and classrooms in the G.G. Brown and Walter E. Lay Automotive Laboratory Buildings. Laboratory facilities in the North Campus buildings were upgraded to an unprecedented degree during this era, thanks to increased research funding, to support advanced laboratories with state-of-the-art computing and experimental equipment for research in the areas of automotive /combustion; biomechanics; computational mechanics; computation design; design prototyping; dynamics; computational fluid mechanics; cavitation and multiphase flow; transport, reaction and phase change in porous media; variable gravity heat transfer; optical and mechanical coordinate measuring machines in manufacturing; precision machining; tribology; welding; machine tool sensing and control; mobile robotics; and ceramic composites.

During the 1970’s, computing was performed using the Michigan Terminal System (MTS), which provided time-shared access to mainframe computers. Time-sharing on MTS was the principal method of computing employed by both faculty and students until the advent of the personal computer in the 1980s. That revolution was brought to the College of Engineering in 1983 with the establishment of the Computer-Aided Engineering Network (CAEN). CAEN operated one of the largest integrated, multi-vendor workstation networks in the academic world. Over 2000 workstations and microcomputers were distributed in faculty and graduate offices and in research and teaching laboratories throughout the College. Several distributed systems provided over 150 gigabytes of centrally administered file storage that could be reached by any computer on the network. The system was recognized as a model distributed computing environment for engineering and computer science instruction and research. The early 1980’s also saw ME faculty employ the first laboratory data acquisition and control systems in their research, and the establishment of a laboratory course equipped with PC’s for real-time data acquisition, signal processing and control.

By the mid-1990s, faculty numbers and research funding had again grown by leaps and bounds, leaving MEAM in need of still more space for classrooms, laboratories, and offices. In 1996-1997, the Department undertook a variety of major facilities projects, including upgrades to the Lay Automotive Laboratory and the facilities used by the Center for Laser-Aided Intelligent Manufacturing. In 1997, funded by a grant from NSF, the former engineering library on the ground floor of the H. H. Dow Building was renovated to establish the Integrated Manufacturing Systems Laboratory (IMSL), which housed the S. M. Wu Manufacturing Research Center as well as the new, NSF-funded ERC/RMS.


The ME Department during this period was world-renowned as a source of popular engineering textbooks for courses such as Mechanical Design (Shigley, Juvinall), Thermodynamics (Van Wylen, Sonntag, Borgnakke), Materials and Manufacturing (Datsko), Manufacturing Systems (Koren), Heat Transfer (Arpaci, Kaviany), Design Optimization (Papalambros) and many others. As rankings of graduate and undergraduate programs began to emerge in the 1980s, ME established itself as a leading department for both graduate and undergraduate programs, as reflected in rankings by U.S. News & World Report and the National Research Council.

An undergraduate curriculum review committee was appointed in the spring of 1992 by the new chair, Panos Papalambros. The committee gathered informal input from the faculty and students, examined the curriculum at other engineering schools, and conducted two formal surveys of the alumni from the classes of 1987, 1982, and 1972. Both surveys showed that generally the Department was doing well in preparing students in the engineering sciences, but less well in the nontechnical aspects of engineering. The alumni, in particular, stressed the need for a stronger communication component. In the spring of 1993, the committee presented to the faculty a preliminary proposal for curriculum revisions, which was given general approval. It maintained the curriculum’s strong core in engineering science but also put much more emphasis on hands-on experience, creative problem-solving, and communications and teamwork. Two major changes were implemented. The first was a reorganization of the required laboratories. Instead of single-credit laboratory modules attached to a number of introductory courses, these laboratories were consolidated into two courses — a junior and senior laboratory class, which would include a strong technical communications requirement focusing on presentations and technical report writing. The second change was the establishment of a sophomore class in design and manufacturing to include computer-aided design and hands-on experience in a machine shop. This early introduction to actually making things would allow the subsequent junior and senior courses to put more emphasis on the completion of working prototypes. The junior and senior courses would also include life-cycle issues, such as environmental impact and disposal after useful life. To support the work in these courses, plans were made for a major renovation of the student machine shop. Floor space and staffing were doubled, hours of operation expanded to evenings and weekends, and the inventory of machines increased by 80 percent. The senior project-based design course, ME450, utilized engineering projects form local industry, and became a role model for senior design project courses throughout the College of Engineering.

New requirements set forth by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) for 2000 and beyond stated that departments must define the objectives and outcomes of the entire program together with the objectives and outcomes of its core (or required) courses. Departments were also asked by ABET to demonstrate that they were achieving those objectives and outcomes. According to Noel Perkins, then director of the ME undergraduate program, because of the intense preparation by ME faculty members during ABET’s visit in 1999, ME was already on course to align with the ABET’s requirements and received a renewal of its accreditation without any difficulty.

Undergraduate students in ME, in addition to benefiting from an enhanced formal curriculum, engaged in many extracurricular activities. By 2000, over 95 percent of all ME undergraduates were involved in one or more extracurricular learning opportunities. These included co-op experiences, summer internships in companies around the country and the world, as well as numerous project teams. In 1990 and 1993, Michigan engineering students, competing against the best undergraduate engineers in the country, won national championships in the solar car competition. Michigan’s dominance in this event began in 1988, when GM issued a challenge to college students across the country to design and build solar cars to race from Florida o Michigan in Sunrayce ’90. Over the next two years, a team of about 100 student Wolverines toiled for long hours to create their car, and in June 1990, they arrived at the starting line with Sunrunner, ready to take on the competition from 32 other student-built cars from around the country. As the race progressed over the next seven days, Sunrunner pulled into the lead and stayed there, crossing the finish line with a 90-minute lead over the second-place finisher. Five months later, in November 1990, Sunrunner competed in the World Solar Challenge in Australia and finished third in the world. The following summer, Sunrunner was retired from competition and put on exhibit in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

Soon thereafter, when the call went out from GM for Sunrayce ’93, a new team of Michigan students went to work. Starting from scratch, the team began to build Michigan’s second solar car, Maize & Blue. One change in the rules for the 1993 race was that cars were not allowed to use space-grade solar cells as Sunrunner had; only the less efficient standard cells were allowed for the 1000 mile race from Texas to Minneapolis. Using a daring strategy and synchronized teamwork, the Michigan students pulled into the lead on the fifth day of the race and finished in first place, 90 minutes ahead of the second-place car.

The Department also played the leading role in the development of the Master of Engineering and Doctor of Engineering professional degree programs, and their delivery by distance learning systems to engineers in industry. The programs were structured to accommodate the needs of working engineers who wanted to acquire graduate-level experience and credentials, but could not be away from work full time. These interdisciplinary degrees combined courses from various disciplines, including business, and provided professional as well as academic preparation. The first M. Eng. and D. Eng. Degrees were awarded in manufacturing in 1994. The founding director of the new manufacturing program was Galip Ulsoy. Ulsoy developed an agreement with General Motors for its engineers worldwide to enroll in the M. Eng. program via distance learning technologies. In the fall of 1995, MEAM launched another M. Eng. Program in automotive engineering, which was led by Dennis Assanis. The M. Eng. in Automotive Engineering program focused on contemporary engineering practice, balancing technical aspects with a strong emphasis on executive skill development. Eventually, other M. Eng. and D. Eng. Degree programs were developed, and InterPro (Interdisciplinary Professional Degree Programs) grew to award the second largest number of masters degrees in the College after the ME Department.

Chia-Shun “Gus” Yih and Fluid Mechanics

Chia-Shun Yih was the Stephen P. Timoshenko Distinguished University Professor in the Department from 1968 until his retirement in 1988.  He was one of the most honored professors in the Department’s history and was a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and of the Academica Sinica in China.  His contributions to the literature of fluid mechanics were extensive and important.  His books have been classic references for many students and researchers in the field.

Milton Chace and Mechanical Dynamics Software Solutions

As a Michigan doctoral student in the 1960s and faculty member in the 1970s and 1980s, Milton Chace conducted pioneering research in computer-aided engineering and mechanical dynamic system analysis, which enabled computerized mechanical simulations that would eliminate the need for expensive prototypes. Chace recognized that problems in mechanism design could be clarified using classical vector calculus, and that predicting and simulating planar mechanism motions could be solved with simple vector loop equations. Using these methods, Chace’s initial research team, which included Don Smith, Mike Korybalski, Allan Rubens and John Angell, first developed a two-dimensional program named DRAM (Dynamic Response of Articulated Machinery), completed in 1969. The program included a computer language that provided automated development of the correct differential equation set for whatever problem was modeled by the user, thus increasing practical utility and eliminating the number of errors per problem that occur with user-developed equations. Later, Ph.D. student Nicholae Orlandea, advised by Chace and his electrical engineering colleague Don Calahan, succeeded in creating a prototype three-dimensional computer simulation program, which he named ADAMS (Automated Dynamic Analysis of Mechanical Systems). In 1977—in an early and highly successful example of the increasing sophistication of the Department’s involvement in technology transfer—Chace and Michigan Engineering colleagues Mike Korybalski and John Angell formed Mechanical Dynamics, Inc. (MDI). Though it was sold to MSC Software Corporation in 2002, MDI continues to develop mechanical simulation software for Fortune 500 companies and other clients in more than 30 countries.

Charles M. Vest: Holography, Tomography and Academic Leadership

Charles M. Vest was a graduate student in ME advised by Vedat S. Arpaci. He stayed on to become a faculty member the Department. Vest’s early work on holographic measurement of temperature fields in natural convection (inspired by U-M Professor Emmett Leith and his colleagues in Electrical Engineering) led to experiments in computed tomography. In the early 1970s, Vest and his students considered the experimental information generated by multiple beams traversing fluids in various directions and realized, given enough viewing directions, that three-dimensional measurements of the density of fluids could be mathematically obtained from interferometric measurements. The mathematical procedure for obtaining these measurements is similar to procedures for obtaining medical images from CAT and MRI scanners, and Vest’s work led to a powerful imaging method widely used to validate predictions in combustion, aerodynamics, and heat transfer. Vest was one of the most accomplished alumni of the ME Department. He went on to serve as associate dean and dean of COE, then provost of the University. From 2000 to 2014 he was president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He was also elected president of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering.

Shien-Ming “Sam” Wu: Statistical Methods and Manufacturing Engineering

In 1987, Shien-Ming “Sam” Wu, who played a key role in establishing manufacturing as an academic discipline, joined the Department after 30 years on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin.  He was the first researcher to introduce advanced statistical techniques to manufacturing research and development, and brought rigor and quantitative methods into manufacturing processes and systems. Wu created a “game changer” for the manufacturing industry by building the strongest academic/industry collaborative research program in the nation.  With funding from the NIST Advanced Technology Program, he created the “2-mm Program.” His industrial partners included Chrysler, Ford and General Motors as well as their suppliers represented by the Automotive Body Consortium. The project focused on methods for improving dimensional variations in automotive body assembly to the world-class 2-mm target. His vision and contributions, as well as the numerous doctoral students he advised, have modernized manufacturing processes of major industries in the U.S. and abroad.  His death in 1992 at the age of 68 limited his tenure as a Michigan faculty member, but his impact during that time was profound. His legacy in the Department continues with research conducted in the S. M. Wu Manufacturing Research Center, led by his former doctoral student, Jun Ni.

Albert B. Schultz: Spinal Biomechanics and Falls in the Elderly

Albert B. Schultz started his career at the University of Illinois in Chicago, but moved to ME at U-M in the mid-1980s. He was recognized as a leader in whole body biomechanics for his research on spinal mechanics, spinal cord injuries and his studies of balance and falls in the elderly. His early research explored the mechanics of idiopathic scoliosis and low back pain. Subsequently he studied — from the viewpoint of engineering mechanics — the assessment, treatment, and prevention of physical problems and injuries that commonly arise in older populations. He was among the most honored faculty to serve in the Department and was elected to NAE. He retired in 1999, but the biomechanics lab he established continues under the leadership of his long-time colleague and collaborator James Ashton-Miller.

2000-2018: Redefining Mechanical Engineering for the 21st Century

In another name change, in 1999-2000 the MEAM Department once again became the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Declines in student enrollment led to the discontinuation of the applied mechanics program. This was not a failure of the applied mechanics program; quite the contrary, it was a clear victory for the science-based engineering education that was originally championed by Timoshenko at U-M. In fact, the applied mechanics program had so transformed Mechanical Engineering that the distinction between the two programs was no longer valid.

Once again, the ME Department was faced with a challenge of redefining itself. Mechanical engineers were needed to address new problems, such as micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), nano-manufacturing, robotic rehabilitation, and biomechanics at the cellular and molecular level. As a means to address the rapid changes occurring in the field of mechanical engineering in the early 2000s, Galip Ulsoy, as chair, joined forces with mechanical engineering department heads in the Big Ten Plus Group, which had submitted a proposal to NSF to hold a workshop in January 2002 entitled “Redefining Mechanical Engineering.” The Big Ten Plus Group included all Big Ten schools except Indiana University plus Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Georgia Tech, MIT, Stanford, the University of Texas, and the University of California, Berkeley. The workshop addressed the discipline’s evolving nature and attempted to redefine the field by focusing on how current trends were likely to affect the future of mechanical engineering research and education. Later workshops (“The 5xME: Transforming Mechanical Engineering Education and Research in the USA,” and “Implementing the Recommendations of the 5xME Workshop”), with the involvement of Kon-Well Wang as chair of ME, continued the national discussion. As a member (2012-2015) and chair (2014-2015) of the ASME Department Heads Executive Committee, Wang developed agenda items at ASME’s Department Heads Forum and its International Mechanical Engineering Education Leadership Summit, which kicked off several new initiatives among ME chairs nationwide.  Wang also nominated U-M ME colleagues as panelists and speakers at these events to present the U-M experience in emerging and future ME trends. For example, Sridhar Kota spoke about how to drive a national agenda at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Diann Brei described U-M’s ME curriculum flexibility enhancement and RISE program; Noel Perkins addressed U-M’s major facility renovation for design/manufacturing education; and Steve Skerlos spoke about sustainable manufacturing). These engagements provided the Department with a platform to more significantly impact the academic community.

The Department continued its strategic planning activities.  Under Kon-Well Wang’s leadership as chair, the most recent strategic plan was developed in 2010. Annual faculty retreats were held to follow up on strategic action items. Strategic goals included undergraduate and graduate education, faculty and staff development, facilities and space, and a research and hiring focus on: (1) bio- and health systems, (2) emerging manufacturing, (3) energy and environment, and (4) future transportation.

During this period, the number of tenure track faculty grew from about 50 to 65. With such growth, actions were developed to enhance junior faculty mentoring, which included a mentoring luncheon program for junior faculty to form a support platform and engage senior faculty or administrators; a new faculty resource guide; and a structured mentor-mentee program. These steps have been proven effective by the many early career awards won by junior ME faculty. Seven received the prestigious NSF CAREER award during 2013-2015. Many new faculty brought in expertise in emerging new areas, such as the science, design and manufacturing of micro- and nano- scale devices, biomechanics at the cellular and molecular levels, connected and automated vehicles, rehabilitation robotics, and energy storage materials. Basic courses in the ME were enriched with these new areas, and new courses and labs were developed to support undergraduate and graduate studies in these emerging fields. Under the leadership of successive associate chairs for graduate education — Karl Grosh, Steve Skerlos and Kevin Pipe — the ME Ph.D. qualifying exams were redesigned and further enhanced.

Throughout its history, the Department has taken full strategic advantage of its geographical location in southeastern Michigan and excelled in automotive and manufacturing engineering. Its faculty and students have developed close ties to engineers working in related industries. Many students from the Department have conducted research, and undertaken projects in special facilities in nearby industries. This continued in the 21st century. The TARDEC-funded ARC (Automotive Research Center) expanded its operation with several renewals under the leadership of Dennis Assanis and Anna Stefanopoulou. But  even these traditional areas of automotive engineering and manufacturing engineering were changing. The automotive area saw an increasing emphasis on automotive control systems to reduce emissions, improve fuel economy and enhance safety. Automotive engineers focused on new technologies such as electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles and batteries, and automated and connected vehicles. Of course, the manufacturing of batteries and fuel cells also became an important topic, and new processes such as lasers and additive manufacturing came to the fore. The ERC/RMS, led by Yoram Koren, continued its operation with NSF funding through 2007, then through 2014 with industrial funding. The Department’s leadership in manufacturing continued in close partnership with industry, and is maintained today with emphases on sensing, diagnostics and manufacturing automation including new processes such as assembly, laser processing, additive manufacturing, sustainable manufacturing, and micro and nano manufacturing.

A number of ME faculty have taken scholarly leaves to become involved in national policy through service to various government organizations. Galip Ulsoy served as director of the Division of Civil and Mechanical Systems at NSF, overseeing an annual research budget of over $85 million. He also briefed the House Committee on Science and Technology and testified before a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.   Sridhar Kota spent several years in Washington, D.C., as an assistant director for advanced manufacturing at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. In that role, he influenced the national science and technology agenda; promoted advanced manufacturing; and devised strategies to improve U.S. competitiveness. He played a key role in launching the National Advanced Manufacturing Partnership and the Manufacturing Innovation Institutes. Bill Schultz and Arvind Atreya also spent several years as NSF program officers.  In 2017, Dawn Tilbury was selected to serve as an NSF Assistant Director and lead the Directorate for Engineering.

In 2008, departments in the College of Engineering were given the flexibility to perform development work. As chair, Kon-Well Wang has worked closely with the College Advancement Office to raise funds for ME’s strategic needs.  One example: the Department and College raised some $15 million in private funds and $30 million from the state of Michigan for the G. G. Brown new addition and major renovation projects.  Another success story: Tim Manganello, chief executive officer of BorgWarner, Inc., and the BorgWarner Foundation endowed ME’s chair with a $2 million gift. As the first endowed department chair in the College, the gift enables new departmental initiatives to achieve some of the ME planned strategic goals. Through this process, ME has created a comprehensive alumni email database (over 9,000), allowing the Department to send emails and e-newsletters to ME alumni. Members of the External Advisory Board were actively engaged in discussing new departmental initiatives, strategic directions and ABET, as well as alumni relations and fund raising enhancements.

Overall, the Department of Mechanical Engineering continues to appear at the top in U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings. Its Ph.D. program was ranked first or second by the National Research Council and The Department has also been ranked among the top 5-6 in the world by QS-World Universities.


Research funding in the ME Department increased from about $20 million per year in 2000 to around $30 million per year in 2015. Much of the increase has been associated with major research centers. These included long-standing centers such as the ARC, the ERC/RMS, the S. M. Wu Manufacturing Research Center and CLAIM as well as new centers in  areas such as advanced battery systems, robotics, clean energy, lightweight materials and socially engaged design. The Ground Robotics Reliability Center (GRRC) was established in 2007 with support from the U.S. Army TARDEC with a focus on the reliability of unmanned ground vehicles. The founding GRRC director was Galip Ulsoy; he was followed by Dawn Tilbury in 2010. The GRRC then continued as part of the ARC.

Under the leadership of Steve Ceccio, a new Naval Engineering Education Center was launched in 2009 with the goal of developing and educating the next generation of naval systems engineers. A Department of Energy U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center was established in 2010 under the leadership of Dennis Assanis; it continues under the directorship of Huei Peng. The center is the Clean Vehicle Consortium  and focuses on disruptive technologies to improve fuel efficiency in vehicles. Another major center, established in 2014, is the American Lightweight Materials and Manufacturing Innovation Institute (ALMMII) under the leadership of Alan Taub, professor of materials science and engineering and professor of mechanical engineering, and with the active participation of numerous ME faculty. The ALMMII, a $148-million effort, is one institute in a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. Its research focus is the lightweighting of components used in transportation vehicles of all kinds.

Extensive cutting-edge research led to various commercialization efforts by ME faculty. For example, Jyoti Mazumder established POM Group Inc. (now DM3D Technology LLC) to develop laser direct metal deposition machines, which are capable of additive manufacturing, or 3-D manufacturing, with metals. Ann Marie Sastry’s research on nanoscale design of materials led to innovative new battery designs and their commercialization through a company named Sakti3.  Noel Perkins developed an ultra-small MEMS-based inertial measurement unit, which then served as the basis of his commercialization efforts in fly-fishing (Castanalysis LLC) and is being extended to other sports such as golf, baseball and basketball. Steve Skerlos’s research in cutting fluids led to two very different startup companies: Accuri Cytometers, which supplies desktop instruments to automate cell analysis using microfluidics; and Fusion Coolant Systems, which provides a better way of lubricating cutting and drilling tools. Shorya Awtar’s innovations in laparoscopic and minimally invasive instruments helped established the FlexDex Surgical. Sridhar Kota’s research in compliant mechanisms and further development via his company FlexSys, Inc. in collaboration with the U.S. Air Force and NASA have created a revolutionary shape-changing aircraft wing that took to the air in successful test flights. Karl Grosh’s research led to the creation of Vesper Technology, which uses piezoelectric materials to create the most advanced Micro Electro-Mechanical (MEMS) microphones on the market.

Other research of this period includes work by Rayhaneh Akhavan (turbulence), Ellen Arruda (behavior of materials including elastomers, polymers, polymer composites), James Ashton-Miller (biomechanics of mobility impairments in the elderly), Arvind Atreya (flame spread over charring materials), Jesse Austin-Breneman (design research, complex systems design, design of product eco-systems, multi-disciplinary design teams, multi-disciplinary design optimization), Shorya Awtar (precision engineering, including mechatronics, flexure mechanisms, and minimally invasive surgery), James Barber (thermoelastic effects in contact mechanics and tribology), Kira Barton (control theory and applications, including high-performance nano-scale printing for electrical and biomedical applications), Andre Boehman (automotive engineering, including fuel production and formulation), Claus Borgnakke (combustion and turbulence modeling, including engine combustion and pollutant formation),  Diann Brei (smart materials and structures), Jesse Capecelatro (developing large-scale simulation capabilities for prediction and design of the complex multi-physics and multiphase flows relevant to energy and the environment), Steve Ceccio (experiments in cavitation), Nikos Chronis (bio-MEMS), Daniel Cooper (manufacturing and sustainability, considers multiple scales: identifying significant opportunities to cut emissions and/or costs by conducting large scale analyses on processes, factories and material supply chains, and pursuing a rigorous technical analysis in order to capitalize on the opportunities), Samantha Daly (microstructural features of materials), Shanna Daly (front-end design processes, idea generation, creativity and innovation, design cognition), Neil Dasgupta (renewable energy and energy storage, including nanomanufacturing and atomic layer deposition),  David Dowling (fluid mechanics and acoustics), Bogdan Epureanu (nonlinear dynamics), Yue Fan (long time scale atomistic simulation, irradiation defects structure evolution in structure materials), Jianping Fu (micro/nanofluids and BioMEMS/NEMS as well as ultra-sensitive  single molecule biosensors), Krishna Garikipati (nonlinear mechanics, materials physics, applied mathematics and numerical methods),  Vikram Gavini (computational tools for electronic structure calculations at macroscopic scale), Brent Gillespie (haptics), Karl Grosh (vibration, noise and acoustics), S. Jack Hu (manufacturing systems: configuration design, performance analysis and mass customization), Greg Hulbert (computational dynamics), Eric Johnsen (fluid mechanics with an emphasis on multiphase flow, cavitation and bubble dynamics), Elijah Kannatey-Asibu Jr. (multi-sensor monitoring of manufacturing processes, specifically machining, welding and laser processing), Massoud Kaviany (heat transfer in porous media), Noboru Kikuchi (computational mechanics including mechanics of composite materials, structural design optimization and the analysis of material processing), Sridhar Kota (compliant mechanisms), Art Kuo (biomechanics of walking and balance), Katsuo Kurabayashi (microscale thermal engineering and design for MEMS), Xiaogan Liang (advanced nanofabrication and nanomanufacturing technologies), Allen Liu (mechanobiology, mechanotransduction, bottom-up synthetic biology and droplet microfluids),Wei Lu (mechanics in nano/micro systems), Edgar Meyhofer (bionanotechnology, cellular and molecular biomechanics), Jun Ni (intelligent maintenance of large industrial systems, optimization of manufacturing operations), Chinedum Okwudire (sustainable manufacturing, including the optimization of mechatronic systems), Kenn Oldham (MEMS and micro-mechatronic systems), Gabor Orosz (nonlinear dynamics and control, time-delay systems and network and complex systems), Jwo Pan (fracture and failure of materials, fatigue testing and modeling and constitutive laws for porous and pressure-sensitive materials), Panos Papalambros (optimal mechanical design), Huei Peng (automotive control systems), Noel Perkins (dynamics of cable and belt, and inertial measurement units), Kevin Pipe (microscale heat transfer for electronic and optoelectronic devices), Bogdan Popa (design, optimization and dynamics of new generations of engineered materials that allow improved control over the propagation of acoustic, elastic and electromagnetic waves with applications in biomedical engineering, telecommunications, aero- and underwater acoustics; noise control; smart materials; mechatronics), Kazu Saitou (computational design for manufacture/assembly/environment), Pramod Sangi Reddy (nanoscale charge and energy transport, thermoelectric devices, microscale heat transfer), C. David Remy (design, simulation, optimization and control of legged robots and other nonlinear systems), Jeff Sakamoto (materials and manufacturing processes to develop new energy storage and biomedical technologies), William Schultz (fluid mechanics of waves, fish locomotion), Albert Shih (biomedical device design and manufacturing, surgical thermal management), Volker Sick (laser-based and other optical measurement techniques in IC engines), Don Siegel (development of high-capacity materials and systems for energy storage applications), Kathleen Sienko (medical device design), Steve Skerlos (sustainable manufacturing), Anna Stefanopoulou (engine control), Jeff Stein (automated modeling), Michael Thouless (fracture in thin films and coatings), Dawn Tilbury (logic control for manufacturing systems, networked control systems), Ramanarayan Vasudevan (optimization, modeling, design and control of nonlinear and hybrid dynamical systems especially as related to human and robot interaction with one another and the environment), Angela Violi (applied chemical kinetics, aerosols, fuels, lubricants), Kon-Well Wang (adaptive structures and materials systems, structural dynamics and controls), Alan Wineman (mechanical response of rubber and polymers under conditions of large deformations) and Margaret Wooldridge (combustion, fluid mechanics and thermodynamics).


ME faculty were often recognized as among the best teachers at U-M through the Arthur F. Thurnau professorship. This university-wide award recognizes faculty for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education. ME faculty who have received this prestigious award include Alan Wineman, Noel Perkins, James Barber, Dennis Assanis, Ann Marie Sastry, Michael Thouless, Margaret Wooldridge, Steve Skerlos, Volker Sick and Kathleen Sienko. Under the leadership of Noel Perkins, ME established the Findley Learning Center (endowed by the family of former ME faculty member William M. Findley) as a dedicated space for student-instructor interaction. The learning center is used to provide office hours for individual and group advising by instructors in large ME lecture courses. It has been so popular with students (who can find assistance with homework and exam preparation at the center virtually any time of the day) that it has now been adopted by other departments and is being expanded as part of renovations in G.G. Brown.

Degrees awarded by the Department in 2000-2001 totaled 265 BSEs, 93 MSEs and 39 doctorates. In 2013-2014, the numbers were 220 BSEs, 134 MSEs and 47 doctoral degrees. The undergraduate program became slightly smaller, the graduate programs slightly larger. In 2000 the Department established the ME Graduate Symposium, which gives current graduate students an opportunity to present their research in a relaxed environment and offers new graduate students a chance to learn about what is going on in the Department’s many research laboratories. The symposium, organized by the graduate students themselves, was expanded to include best presentation awards and poster sessions and became so popular it continues today as a College of Engineering-wide event held every fall term.

Under the leadership of Diann Brei, ME’s associate chair for undergraduate education (2012-17), new initiatives were carried out to realize the vision of redefining mechanical engineering following the outcomes of the national 5xME workshops.  For example, ME’s undergraduate curriculum has been revised to improved flexibility for students to explore disciplines outside of engineering. The Department has also supplemented its core curriculum with the new Research, Innovation, Service, Entrepreneurship (RISE) program and supporting the Mechanical Engineering Undergraduate Symposium. In the RISE program, undergraduates work alongside faculty on projects that impact our society and future.  The ME Undergraduate Symposium provides a venue for sophomores, juniors and seniors to showcase their projects from RISE and from their Design and Manufacturing courses (Design Expo). In addition, significant resources were allocated and new ME curriculum/courses were developed to support undergraduate education in the emerging new fields. For example, initiated by Shorya Awtar, ME has embedded mechatronics into our Design and Manufacturing core curriculum spine, covering ME250, 350, 450 and 552.  Also, initiated by Edgar Meyhofer and Pramod Sangi Reddy, nano-scale concepts were embedded in the senior lab core course (ME495) via leveraging upon atomic force microscope technology, introducing undergraduates to nano-scale phenomena in mechanics, biomechanics and heat transfer.

In this period the Department began various international partnerships to provide global experiences for its students. These included major partnerships with the Technical University of Berlin, the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. For example, in the summer of 2000, ME formed a strategic partnership with Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) in Shanghai, China to help assist in reshaping the way Chinese colleges of engineering educated their students. SJTU used an ME model to restructure its undergraduate curriculum, and a pilot class of 60 students was admitted into the new program that same year as ME faculty members began their first set of lectures at SJTU. This effort, under the leadership of Jun Ni, has developed into one of the most successful international academic collaborations in the world and has resulted in the establishment of the UM-SJTU Joint Institute. In February of 2001, ME signed a memorandum of understanding for a collaborative program with the mechanical engineering department of the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). The agreement created a formal relationship between the two schools that included a plan to exchange students and faculty members for research and academic purposes of common interest, including joint workshops and short courses, publications co-authored by the two parties, an exchange of scholars and academic staff, and visits to industry and research establishments.

Extracurricular activities continued to play a major role in the education of the Department’s undergraduates, with essentially all students involved in student project teams, internships in industry or co-op experiences before they graduate. The Better Living Using Engineering laboratory (BLUElab), advised by Steve Skerlos, provides engineering-based service opportunities for ME students. The mission of BLUElab is to develop a community of students who serve society and the environment through the practice of sustainable design. BLUElab activities include water accessibility, solar technology, resource management in homes, anaerobic digestion, engineering education, and wind powered technology. Each project team works with a partner community in Ann Arbor or in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, India, or Nicaragua. The Laboratory for Innovation in Global Health Technology (LIGHT), advised by Kathleen Sienko, uses design ethnography techniques to co-creatively design and assess cost-effective technology solutions to healthcare challenges in low-income countries such as Ghana, Ethiopia and China. ME students and alumni helped bring the U-M solar car M-Pulse to victory in 2001 at the American Solar Challenge. M-Pulse was the third Wolverine winner (in addition to Sunrunner in 1990 and Maize & Blue in 1993) in the six times the American Solar Challenge had taken place. This success continued in the coming years with first place finishes by Momentum (2005), Continuum (2008), Infinium (2009), Quantum (2011) and Quantum II (2014). That made seven national championships to date for the U-M solar car team.


To meet the needs of the “new ME” in teaching and research necessitated major improvements to the Department’s facilities. This was advocated by several previous chairs (Papalambros, Ulsoy and Assanis) during their tenure.  Planned, designed and constructed under the leadership of the succeeding chair, Kon-Well Wang, several major facility projects were carried out.  First, a new 62,880-square-foot world-class research complex was completed in 2014 with special facilities to support emerging areas, such as micro-, nano-, and bio- systems. This $46-million addition to the G.G. Brown building was partially supported by a $9.5-million grant from NIST. At the core of the building, and resting on a separate and isolated foundation, lies an ultra-low vibration laboratory, which includes eight separate testing chambers with stringent control of temperature and humidity. A separate renovation project costing $50 million, with $30 million from the State of Michigan, was launched upon the completion of the G.G. Brown addition in summer 2014. Driven by tremendous growth, the renovation creates a central hub for the Department directly connected to the new G.G. Brown addition. It improves the infrastructure of G.G. Brown enormously, and, in addition, realizes a vision of a student-centric environment for teaching, learning and advising.  The newly renovated space integrated many facilities in the central hub, including a large auditorium-style classroom, an advisee-friendly advising center, a modernized learning center for student-faculty interaction, and expanded laboratory spaces for all the required Design & Manufacturing courses and instructional laboratory courses that support the “Design, Build, Test” pedagogical paradigm. The renovation project was completed in summer of 2016. After the G.G. Brown major renovation, another interior renovation project was carried out, which upgraded the public spaces and offices of the Walter E. Lay Automotive Laboratory and improved the working environment of the residents.

Another major U-M facility that has strong connection with ME is the MCity of the Mobility Transformation Center (MTC). The MTC, launched in 2013, is a partnership between U-M, the U.S. and Michigan Departments of Transportation to dramatically improve the safety, sustainability and accessibility of the ways that people and goods move from place to place in our society. The current director of the MTC is ME faculty Huei Peng. In 2016, an offspring of the MTC, MCity, was launched. MCity is a one-of-a-kind test site for connected and automated vehicles located on U-M’s North Campus Research Center.  The test site has over 3,000 connected vehicles in Ann Arbor, and is instrumentation at most major intersections being used to collect traffic data. MCity is the world’s first connected and automated vehicle proving grounds, and will provide a unique resource for not only data collection, but for evaluation of vehicle connectivity and automation technologies in a controlled but realistic environment.

National Academy of Engineering and Distinguished University Professorships

During this era, seven ME faculty members were inducted into the National Academy of Engineering (NAE): Yoram Koren, Galip Ulsoy, Dennis Assanis, Jyoti Mazumder, Jack Hu, Ellen Arruda, and Noboru Kikuchi. Election to the NAE is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer. Three ME professors were recognized with Distinguished University Professorships, one of U-M’s top honors: Galip Ulsoy, Yoram Koren and Panos Papalambros.

Yoram Koren: A Leader in Manufacturing Automation

In 1980, Yoram Koren joined the Department as the Paul Goebel Visiting Professor from the Technion in Israel. He stayed until his retirement in 2014 as the James J. Duderstadt Distinguished University Professor of Manufacturing and the Paul G. Goebel Professor of Engineering. He made many important and innovative contributions to research, including the first adaptively controlled machine tool, cross-coupled controllers for contouring, and state modeling of tool wear, a virtual field methodology for obstacle avoidance in mobile robots. His autonomous mobile robot CARMEL was featured on CNN in 1988 (see on YouTube), and won in 1992 the U.S. Autonomous Mobile Robot competition. Most importantly, he is widely recognized as the founder of reconfigurable manufacturing systems. Koren’s 1995 NSF proposal to establish an Engineering Research Center for Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems was granted, and from 1996 to 2007 he received a grant of $32.5 million. (See Wikipedia “Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems”.) The ERC/RMS was the first NSF-sponsored ERC at U-M.

Koren was the director of the NSF-sponsored ERC/RMS, a massive research effort involving dozens of faculty, hundreds of students, and dozens of companies that paid $12 million in membership fee. At the time it was the single largest funded research project in the history of U-M. Koren’s vision was to make manufacturing responsive to the changing needs of the consumer, by enabling the manufacturing system, machines and controllers to be reconfigured to produce different parts and at different volumes. Many of the technologies developed by the ERC/RMS researchers are in use in manufacturing plants around the world. Koren is among the most honored faculty in the history of the Department, winning numerous national and international awards, including election to the NAE, SME Honorary member, and a Distinguished University Professorship. The U-M honored him by establishing the Koren Conference Room.

Yoram Koren wrote three popular original textbooks:

  • Computer control of manufacturing systems. 1983, McGraw-Hill.
  • Robotics for engineers. 1985, McGraw-Hill. (This book was translated by the publisher to Japanese and French)
  • The Global Manufacturing Revolution: Product-Process-Business Integration and Reconfigurable Systems. 2010, Wiley.

Noboru Kikuchi: Homogenization and Topology Optimization

Noboru Kikuchi, the Roger L. McCarthy Professor of Mechanical Engineering, was an expert in computational mechanics, including the finite element method (FEM). He joined the Department in 1980 and worked on a variety of important research topics, including computational methods for contact problems, for adaptive mesh generation in FEM, and the homogenization method. That method, developed with Martin Bendsoe of the Technical University of Denmark, enabled not just the optimization of the dimensions of a given mechanical design, but the determination of the optimal topology itself from the loading and material properties. The homogenization method is based on the observation that topological design is necessary in addition to size and shape design. If topological changes are not allowed, size and shape optimization procedures can improve a design by approximately 5-15 percent. Topological modifications, however, can often yield 30-50 percent improvement. In the homogenization method, the topology and shape problem is formulated as a new optimization problem involving material distribution. This field of topology optimization has had profound impact on the design of complex mechanical structures. Kikuchi collaborated with many colleagues, such as Sridhar Kota on design of compliant mechanisms, Panos Papalambros and Deba Dutta on rapid design and fabrication of parts designed using homogenization, and Jyoti Mazumder on additive manufacturing. Kikuchi’s work is widely used in industry, and he eventually spent more and more of his time working with automotive industry researchers. He retired from the Department in 2015 and became the president of the Central Research and Development Labs at Toyota Motor Company. He was elected to NAE in 2017.