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Research Theme: Multi-Scale Engineering

Engineering from the atom up 

Much of modern mechanical engineering research is intrinsically multi-scale by its nature, and this is a principal theme in ME at Stanford.

The primary goal of this work is to link our understanding of the physical world at very small scales with the observable performance of macroscopic systems. Examples include:

  • Simulation of material behavior from the atomistic to the continuum level

  • Simulation of mass, energy and momentum transport processes from the nanoscale to the continuum level

  • Nanoscale experiments and model development for materials

  • Research on the control and modeling of turbulence

  • Hierarchical design of MEMS devices for improved performance and reliability

  • Study of the mechanical and transport physics in biological systems including cells, tissue, and molecules

Many of these topics feature nanoscales and/or nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is the creation and utilization of functional materials, devices and systems with novel properties and functions achieved through the control of matter, atom by atom, molecule by molecule or at the macromolecular level. In a sense this represents the ultimate multi-scale engineering field by virtue of the enormous range of scales involved.

Faculty in the Mechanics and Computation Group provide a focus for multi-scale simulations and experiments on mechanical systems, and faculty in the Flow Physics and Computation Group are making critical contributions to multi-scale simulations ranging from energy conversion systems to molecular transport in biological systems. Faculty and students in Thermosciences and Design groups are focused on experiments at micro- and nanoscales, which establish and verify the correct physical models for transport

The nanotechnology revolution

A revolution has begun in science based on our recent ability to organize, characterize and manipulate matter systematically at the nanoscale. The engineering and technology applications are only now beginning to emerge. Far-reaching outcomes for the new century are envisioned in a wide range of technologies including advanced materials, energy conversion and storage, nanoelectronics, biosensors and nanobiotechnology. The faculty and students in the department are addressing the formidable challenges which remain, not only in the area of fundamental understanding, but also in device and system design, manufacturing and system integration.

Approaching the problem

Since nanosystems are of a size intermediate between isolated atoms and molecules and bulk materials, understanding the behavior of nanosystems requires modeling, large-scale computer simulation and new tools for experimentation and for design. Approaches such as quantum mechanics, molecular simulation, grain and continuum-based models, and stochastic methods are all part of the study taking place within the department. Current ME faculty expertise places the Department at the confluence of theory, fundamental experimentation and application.