Spring 2021 message from Department of Mechanical Engineering Chair Darryl Thelen

// Mechanical Engineering

Photo of Darryl Thelen
Darryl Thelen

What a year! Our academic routines have been disrupted by the pandemic, yet our faculty, staff and students have adapted and persevered in ways that are truly remarkable. We still offered many in-person labs this year so that students could continue to get valuable hands-on experiences. Most of our classes and labs have also been delivered remotely, enabling off-site students to access materials and make progress toward their degree. A highlight of the fall was seeing the first-year students take over the Mechanical Engineering Building lobby to test the Arduino-driven trolleys they had spent all semester designing and building for their Introduction to Mechanical Engineering course. It was great fun and an awesome way to end a challenging semester. Thanks to instructor Kris Dressler and his team of student assistants for their dedication to making the intro class special. Looking forward, we do plan a return to full in-person instruction in fall 2021 and re-establishing the group, team and face-to-face activities that are fundamental to our mechanical engineering degree.

Our research activities have progressed very nicely over the past year. In fact, our faculty submitted a record number of proposals and were awarded more than $25 million in competitive grants, also a record.

Among these awards is Grainger Institute for Engineering Associate Professor Christian Franck’s PANTHER program, which seeks to develop and deliver novel approaches and solutions to detect, treat and prevent traumatic brain injuries. Robert Lorenz Professor of Mechanical Engineering David Rothamer of the Engine Research Center is leading a new effort on developing hybrid aircraft systems that can run reliably and stably on different types of fuel and in extreme environments. Another exciting initiative is Wisconsin Autonomous, led by Faculty Associate Glenn Bower and Assistant Professor Xiangru Xu. The student group received a four-year SAE AutoDrive Challenge II award to design, develop and demonstrate an autonomous passenger vehicle. It is exciting to see this move forward—especially since it enables graduate and undergraduate students to collaboratively focus on a major engineering challenge of this century.

I close by congratulating our students who graduated this spring. UW-Madison held a limited-attendance graduation ceremony in Camp Randall Stadium. We are very proud of our graduates’ accomplishments and know that they will use their mechanical engineering knowledge and experience to do good in the world.

On, Wisconsin!

Darryl Thelen
John Bollinger Chair of Mechanical Engineering & Bernard A. and Frances M. Weideman Professor