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Research Theme - Design

Design is Pervasive in Mechanical Engineering

Virtually all faculty members in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Stanford are involved in some form of design activity.

Some actively design and manufacture devices or products; others study the design process including team design and team learning, a traditional strength in our design curriculum. In addition, we develop tools to facilitate the creation of engineering products at a variety of scales and complexity. We interpret the word "design" widely, reflecting the broad value systems we cultivate in the Department. We also believe that a better understanding of societal needs, aided by association with social sciences, will further assure the relevance of the fields we choose to work in. 

Where Can You Work on Design?

The department's Design Group, which contributes many faculty to the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, provides the nexus for the creation and understanding of successful design processes. Numerous faculty in the Mechanics and Computation Group and the Flow Physics and Computation Group are developing the next generation of simulation capabilities for mechanical, fluidic and biological systems. In the Thermosciences Group, there is much research on the design of thermal and energy conversion systems ranging from thermoelectric and solar energy converters to clean coal. Finally, there is a long tradition of the simulation, characterization and design of biomedical structures in the Biomechanical Engineering Program.

Broadening the Requirements Envelope

In the past, Design Engineering's primary concern has been with "feasibility"—our traditional and technically oriented approach to problem solving. As we are asked to be more innovative in today's commercial/industrial environment, it becomes critical that we weigh in on "usability," "viability" and "desirability" as well. The usability of products is obviously becoming more valued and requires us to focus much more strongly on human values in addition to technical requirements. Understanding the viability of the products and services we are responsible for creating requires better understanding of business principles in order to focus on appropriate solutions that will ensure that our designs will make it out into the world. Desirability requires an empathy for the social context and meaning of products.

Human-Centered Design

The human-centered design approach requires us to collaborate with and understand more fully the approach of social scientists in the cognitive psychology, sociology and cultural anthropology fields. Our challenge and opportunity after developing expertise in the social sciences is to understand human values and needs to nearly the same extent that we understand technical and analytical issues. This allows us to design products, services and experiences that people truly value as individuals and as a culture. The change to a human-centered design methodology is quite profound; instead of inspiration coming primarily from new technical advancements that we are trying to exploit, we take the approach of studying and observing humans to understand their wants and latent needs. We are therefore able to design a more appropriately satisfying solution that makes a difference.
Thursday, November 20, 2014


Sheri Sheppard receives a national honor for her innovative approach to teaching undergraduate students in a hands-on, problem-solving way that transforms large classes into small group learning laboratories.


Monday, November 10, 2014 - 14:00
CIS-X (101X) Auditorium, Paul G. Allen Building, Stanford University


"Improving Peripheral IV Catheterization Through Robotics: From Simple
Assistive Devices To a Fully-Autonomous System"

Reuben Brewer
Mechanical Engineering Department
Monday, November 10th, 2014 @ 2pm
CIS-X (101X) Auditorium, Paul G. Allen Building, Stanford University
Directions available at:
The auditorium is on the corner of the building near the street Serra Mall
Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Mark is best known for his work on robotic hands and bioinspired running and climbing robots. Mark's articles on grasping are among the most cited in the field and his robots have appeared extensively in the media (NOVA, New York Times, National Geographic). Mark pioneered Shape Deposition Manufacturing to create prototypes with embedded electronics, reinforcing fibers, and hard and soft materials for tuned mechanical properties. He has graduated 40 PhD students in leading industry and faculty positions (e.g., Harvard, MIT, U. Michigan, Stanford, CMU, Purdue).



Tuesday, November 4, 2014 - 14:15 to 15:30
McCullough Building, Room 115

Free and open to the public

The 4th Screen in Your Life
Thorsten Hayer, Experience Design Lead, Tesla Motors

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chris Gerdes and his student, Nitin Kapania, have received the best paper award from the 12th International Symposium on Advanced Vehicle Control, which occurred in Tokyo this Fall.    The paper is entitled “An Autonomous Lanekeeping System for Vehicle Path Tracking and Stability at the Limits of Handling.”  This is among a series of fine papers emerging from Chris’ group on applications that are at the forefront of vehicle design. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - 19:00 to 21:00
Bldg 550 Atrium, 416 Escondido Mall


Robin Petravic MFA ’97 discusses the process by which he transformed HEATH Ceramics from a dilapidated factory to an industry juggernaut in California-made, artisan-created products of enduring beauty and purpose that enhance people’s lives

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 - 19:00 to 21:00
Bldg 550 Atrium, 416 Escondido Mall


Matthew Lenoci MS '93 shares the story of MATTEO, the sewn textiles manufacturing company he founded in 1996 to help re-awaken the spirit of "Made in America" and build community in East Los Angeles.
Friday, October 17, 2014 (All day)

Registration is free, but mandatory for each symposium attendee.  Please register here:

The second Stanford-Berkeley Robotics Symposium will take place on Friday, October 17, 2014. The venue will be McCaw Hall, Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center (326 Galvez Street, Stanford). 

The Symposium will bring together roboticists from Stanford, Berkeley, and the Bay Area robotics industry, and will feature 
- presentations from Stanford and Berkeley faculty
- talks from bay area industry representatives
- keynote talks from Prof. Boyd (Stanford) and Prof. Jordan (Berkeley)
- student poster session

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 - 15:15 to 16:01
Peterson Laboratory (Building 550), Studio 1, Second Floor
The elegance and maneuverability of bats during flight is unparalleled in both the natural and the man-made world, and they serve as a source of inspiration for scientists trying to understand the evolution of flight and for engineers designing highly agile Micro Air Vehicles. We have been exploring this rich research area for several years with studies ranging from live animal flights to instrumented robotic wings.


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