Share this:
03/29/2007 07:00:00

Mechanical Engineering at Caltech Celebrates Centennial

PASADENA, Calif.- Typical universities have mechanical engineering faculty who teach and conduct occasional consulting projects on the side, but the California Institute of Technology is not like most universities and its ME department is anything but typical.

The department, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary on March 30 and 31, has played a key role in the aerospace industry and has contributed to projects including with the Grand Coulee Dam, the Space Shuttle, and the California Aqueduct, among many others.

"It's all about ME," as the celebration is called, will briefly look back at the department's history, but the majority of the agenda is devoted to addressing the problems faculty are currently working to solve, and projects that Caltech students and alumni are undertaking.

Students will demonstrate Alice, their entry in the DARPA Urban Challenge, a November 3 competition in which autonomous ground vehicles will be required to navigate themselves through 60 miles of city streets, using Global Positioning Systems and other technology.

The program on Friday, March 30, will include a reprise of a mechanical engineering design competition and a poster session featuring undergraduate and graduate research achievements. Graduate students will discuss their work in materials with memory, medical applications such as simulating shocks to break up kidney stones, and trying to better understand why some sand dunes create a booming or humming sound when perturbed. Faculty speakers will describe current research projects in medical robotics and modeling earthquake processes. This will be followed by a banquet.

Saturday is devoted to talks by alumni on such topics as "The Future of Oil and Gas Exploration and Recovery," "The Electric Car," "Nanomechanics of Biological Structures--DNA, Membranes, and Viruses," "Manned Space Exploration," and "The 2003 Mars Exploration Rover Project: A Major Engineering Challenge."

The mechanical engineering department consists of 17 professorial faculty members who teach and conduct research in a wide range of areas including thermal sciences, fluid and solid mechanics, mechanical systems, robotics, control systems, and engineering design.

The department is ranked third among graduate programs by US News & World Report and fourth by the Institute for Scientific Information for the strength of its impact on research worldwide (as measured by the number of citations of papers published by its faculty), despite being much smaller than its competition.

Caltech's close association with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory gives students and faculty ready access to projects and facilities related to advanced spacecraft, microelectronics and micromechanical system fabrication, and interplanetary navigation test beds.

Students are encouraged to take a wide range of courses in mechanical engineering and related disciplines at Caltech. The department has an outstanding record of placement for graduates at all degree levels. A large number of undergraduates continue for advanced degrees, and many of the graduate-program alumni have become professors at top research universities. Others have gone on to influential positions in industry and government.

For more information on the centennial events, see or call Christine Silva at (626) 395-4107.


Contact: Jill Perry (626) 395-3226

Visit the Caltech Media Relations website at

Written by Jill Perry