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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.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015 - 18:00 to 19:00
Automotive Innovation Facility, 473 Oak Rd. Stanford, CA

Open Garage Talk 
Going Sideways to Move Forward
Introducing Stanford’s latest automated vehicle
Moderated by Mythbusters’
Jamie Hyneman
Tuesday, October 20
Discussion begins at 6:00 p.m.
Automotive Innovation Facility
473 Oak Road
Stanford, CA 94305
Registration is required; seating is limited.

Thursday, October 29, 2015 - 19:00 to 20:00
Peterson Building 550, 416 Escondido Mall, Stanford University

Free and open to the public

32 million disaster victims are made homeless each year. REACTION is making portable, stackable, connectable, transportable, recyclable temporary homes for them. And they’ve raised $11M+ in seed and venture funds to do it.  Hear their off-the-record account of how REACTION is transforming disaster shelter response.
Speakers: Michael McDaniel, the CEO and Founder of REACTION, was formerly with Frog Design. Mariel Lanas, BS ’13 (Product Design) MS ’15 (Mechanical Engineering, is the Design Engineer at REACTION ans was formerly at Apple and Driptech. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015 - 16:00 to 16:45
Paul G. Allen Building,420 Via Palou Mall

Space is limited.  RSVP to Jim Chen, if you would like to attend.

The Porsche 919 Hybrid is the brand's most complex and efficient race car to date.  Competing as a Class 1 Le Mans Prototype (LMP1) in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the 919 Hybrid acts as a running research laboratory for future sports car technology.  After a 16-year absence, Porsche returned to endurance racing in 2014.

Thursday, June 2, 2016 - 09:05 to 18:00


Stanford's Mechanical Engineering Design Group invites you to join us as we celebrate our students' creative work in design research, design practice, engineering, and manufacturing.

The Stanford Design EXPErience is a unique, once-a-year opportunity to meet with students, faculty and industry colleagues. This year brings you an expansive range of participating courses, faculty, and students from a broad cross section of design thinking activities at Stanford.

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Stanford Professor Bernie RothWhen he joined the Stanford design faculty in the 1960s, Bernie Roth crossed paths with many Silicon Valley engineers who dreamed of starting their own companies. But for many, it was just talk – they continued to work for large tech companies.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Engineers looking for inspiration for better drone camera design might want to set their gaze toward lovebirds.

Lovebirds are famous for their ability to quickly maneuver through densely cluttered airspace, and Stanford engineers now show that this is probably made possible by the birds' ability to turn their heads at a speed that is tops in the animal world.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015 - 13:00 to 15:00
The Atrium, Peterson Building 550

Free and open to the public


Product Realization Lab students transform big ideas into pathbreaking products. See innovations in sports equipment, consumer goods, education and health devices, agricultural tools, and MORE! Come get a glimpse of the future!


Saturday, June 13, 2015 - 13:30 to 16:30
Cubberley Auditorium, School of Education, 485 Lasuen Mall, Stanford, CA 94305

For the presentations: No RSVPs required. All are welcome. No assigned seating.

Come experience Design Thinking through the innovative work of Stanford Graduate Design Program's class of 2015.
Join us at Cubberley Auditorium as each student shares the projects and passions that have engaged them over the last two years. Afterwards, enjoy food, drink and conversation at The Loft for an informal gathering and celebration.
Graduate Design Presentations
Saturday, June 13, 2015
1:30 - 4:30 p.m.
Stanford University, School of Education, Cubberley Auditorium
485 LASUEN MALL, Stanford CA 94305

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A promising new adhesive material was born out of a scrap.

David Christensen, a mechanical engineering graduate student at Stanford, was trimming a piece of adhesive modeled after the grippy fingers of geckos and noticed that the thin scrap seemed particularly grippy. He shared this observation with his colleague Elliot Hawkes, who laminated a piece of non-stretchable, but very flexible, film to the back of the scrap. They found that the combination greatly magnified the grip and allowed some surprising properties.


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