Mechanical engineering at Caltech explores the boundaries between traditional disciplines of science and engineering in order to develop a fundamental understanding of interdisciplinary challenges and create advanced technology to address contemporary problems. Mechanical engineering encompasses three broad areas: (1) mechanics of materials, (2) systems and control, and (3) thermal sciences and fluid dynamics.
The educational program in mechanical engineering prepares students for research and professional practice in an era of rapidly advancing technology. It combines a strong background in the basic and engineering sciences with anemphasis on addressing the critical technological challenges of the day. It strives to develop professional independence, creativity, leadership, and the capacity for continuing professional and intellectual growth.
Areas of Research
- Mechanics of Materials. Studies in the field of mechanics of materials emphasize a fundamental understanding of mechanical behavior and failure of materials as well as its applications. Areas of interest include static and dynamic deformation and failure of homogeneous and heterogeneous solids, mechanical behavior of nanostructures, active materials, microstructure characterization and evolution, thin films, micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), composites, fracture and frictional sliding of solids, earthquake source processes, seismo-mechanics, geomechanics, and granular media. Most problems emphasize bridging temporal and spatial scales and the development of advanced analytical, computational, or experimental techniques.
- Systems and Control. This area combines a broad range of mechanical engineering fields, including control systems, dynamics, kinematics, and mechanical design, as well as cross-disciplinary areas such as signal processing, computer control, engineering computation, electromechanical design, micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) design, and bioengineering. General areas of interest include control theory, estimation theory, decision theory, and robotics.
- Thermal Sciences and Fluid Dynamics. This area encompasses experimental and computational research in fluid dynamics, heat and mass transfer, thermodynamics, and combustion. Specific research areas include Stokesian dynamics, granular materials, cavitation and multiphase flow, turbulent combustion, explosion dynamics, and flow-generated sound. Applications cover a range of scales from molecular to high Reynolds number flows. They include constitutive modeling of colloidal dispersions, micro/nanofluidic systems including Marangoni and thermocapillary forcing in thin liquid films, the formation of pollutants from combustion hydrocarbon fuels, instabilities of complex, reacting flows, and high-speed flows with shock waves. Inter-disciplinary activities in the group include research on geophysical phenomena, biomedical devices, bio-inspired propulsion, and application of control theory to fluid mechanics.
Students and faculty in mechanical engineering conduct research in laboratory facilities in a number of areas, including design and prototyping, flow visualization, heat transfer, robotics, bio/nano-mechanics, nano-mechanical testing, seismo-mechanics, biomolecular circuits, autonomous vehicles, explosion dynamics, T5 hypervelocity flow, and geomechanics. A number of High Performance Computing (HPC) clusters are available, including both CPU- and GPU-based architectures. Kavli Nanoscience Institute (KNI) is utilized for micro- and nano-fabrication, testing, and characterization.
The Jim Hall Design Lab (The Lab) is a 5,000-square-foot machine shop and maker space facility available to students, faculty, and staff of the Caltech Community. The lab facility trains students on various tools and machines ranging from conventional manual devices, such as lathes and mills, to the most modern technologies, including computer numerically controlled (CNC) Mills, Lathes, Laser, and Water Jets cutters, and 3D printers. The physical workspace and its full suite of tools enable students to formulate and draft engineering concepts using computer-aided design (CAD) software and assemble actual working prototypes from metals, plastics, and the latest in high-strength composites. As engineers in training, our students' lab experience provides a "hands-on" aspect to their educational background, complementing their foundational engineering coursework. The mission of our lab facility is to enable our students to gain valuable technical and project management experience and prepare them for the next phase of their careers.
The undergraduate lab facility is a state-of-the-art, 950-square-foot teaching laboratory located in the Gates-Thomas building. The lab space contains an axial-torsional (25kN) material test frame, strain gage measurement system, air-isolated optical table, and 2D Digital Image Correlation (DIC) optical metrology for full-field 2D visualization and quantification of mechanical deformation and strain in engineering materials. The lab facility also includes a 20 cm x 2cm x 2m water tunnel with an integrated laser particle image velocimetry (PIV) system for full-field visualization of 2D velocity flow fields. The primary mission of this lab facility is to support the Experiments and Modeling in Mechanical Engineering (ME50a/b) course sequence, which is offered each year during the winter and spring quarters. ME50a, taken during the winter term, introduces our students to Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and experimental fluid mechanics. ME50b, taken during the spring term, introduces our students to Finite Element Analysis (FEA) of engineering structures and experimental solid mechanics. Students gain hands-on experience in both parts of the course sequence as they work through each phase of a lab experiment, data collection, and post-processing of the experimental through Matlab. Technical writing skills are also reinforced through individual reports that students must independently draft and submit for each modeling assignment and lab project.