Mechanical Engineering is one of the largest and most diverse engineering disciplines with applications in virtually every field and industry and is the largest academic department by undergraduate enrollment at WPI. Mechanical engineers are involved in the design and construction of everything from spacecraft to aircraft carriers to household appliances to heart-lung machines to microscopic nanomachines. Mechanical engineers work in a broad range of professions and industries. They design products, supervise production, conduct research and development, and run businesses and technical operations. In a shrinking world with limited natural resources, today's mechanical engineers must also accomplish their work economically and efficiently. Mechanical engineering requires a solid grounding in the physical sciences and mathematics as well as engineering science and design.
When the Worcester County Free Institute of Industrial Science opened in November 1868, only a handful of disciplines were offered. Of these, the Board of Trustees noted, "the first in importance is mechanical engineering." Post-Civil War America was dominated by the machine and by dreams of an ever more mechanized and productive world. The new discipline of mechanical engineering was the key to turning that vision into a reality.
WPI was among the first to offer a course in mechanical engineering, and its mechanical engineering students and instructors became pioneers in a new model of engineering education. WPI was the first technological school to emphasize the importance of laboratory methods and the first to establish the workshop as an essential part of training in engineering.
The Washburn Shops contained a model manufacturing facility, by 1868 standards. It was there that students, working with journeyman factory hands, turned out products for sale on the open market. Profits from the shop helped to support the new school, which initially charged no tuition. At the same time, students became familiar with manufacturing processes and the expectations of the workers that they'd find in industry following graduation.
WPI's theory and practice philosophy became a model for many of the well-known engineering schools developed in the latter part of the 19th century, including Georgia Institute of Technology and Rose-Hulman University. Although changing times have relegated commercial shops to the pages of history, the hands-on philosophy pioneered in the Washburn Shops is still the hallmark of a WPI education.
Academic Options within Mechanical Engineering
Within Mechanical Engineering, undergraduates have the option to enhance their degree by adopting one or more of seven concentrations. The concentrations are obtained by completing a short list of courses and doing a related Major Qualifying Project. It is also possible, should students seek further specialization, to get a B.S. in Aerospace or Manufacturing Engineering. Despite this option, many students elect for the more broad Mechanical Engineering, opening up a wider selection of careers.
Students are provided with ample opportunity to develop technical competence in low- and high-speed aerodynamics, propulsion systems, structures, and aerospace systems design. Experimental facilities available for course and projects in aerospace engineering include several wind tunnels, vacuum chambers, and controls instrumentation. Modern computational laboratories are also available.
Typical MQPs include: the design, construction, and testing of remotely piloted aircraft and micro aerial vehicles; aerodynamics; flow and structural control; gas dynamics; combustion; electric propulsion.
Students blend biology and biotechnology coursework with continuum mechanics, biomechanics, biofluids, and biomedical materials to support their individual interest. MQPs are usually developed jointly with off-campus medical facilities, including the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
Typically MQP topics include: soft tissue mechanics, flow in constricted blood vessels, joint kinematics, prosthetic devices, sports biomechanics, biomaterials, tissue engineering and rehabilitation.
Students select courses to develop the ability to construct models to analyze, predict, and test the performance of solid structures, fluids, and composite materials under various situations.
Typical MQP topics include: mechanical vibrations, stress and strain analysis, computer methods in engineering mechanics, finite element analysis, and vibration isolation. Departmental testing facilities and computer and software support are available.
Courses are available to support development of student interest in the design, analysis, and optimization of an assembly of components which produce a machine. Computer- based techniques are widely used in support of these activities.
Typical MQP topics are: optimum design of mechanical elements, stress analysis of machine components, evaluation and design of industrial machine components and systems, robotics, and computer-aided design and synthesis.
Courses are available to support student interest in manufacturing engineering, computer-aided design, computer-aided manufacturing, robotics, vision systems, and a variety of manufacturing processes. Typical MQPs include: robotics, composite materials, factory automation, materials processing, computercontrolled machining, surface metrology, fixturing, machine dynamics, grinding, precision engineering, prototype manufacturing.
Materials Science And Engineering
Students interested in a strong materials science and engineering component can elect course and project activities in metals, ceramics, polymers, and composite materials with laboratory and project experience using facilities in Stoddard Laboratories.
Typical MQP topics include: X-ray diffraction, electron microscopy, computer modeling, mechanical testing and deformation mapping, plastic deformation, ceramic processing, friction, wear, corrosion, and materials processing. Another option in the materials program is a Minor in Materials, which is described under Materials Engineering in this catalog.
Students study the theoretical and empirical bases of thermodynamics, heat transfer, mass transfer, and fluid flow, as well as the application of these fundamental engineering sciences to energy conversion, environmental control, and vehicular systems.
Typical MQPs include: biological fluid mechanics, laminar/ turbulent separation, lifting bodies, heat pipes, electronic component cooling, power cycles, fluid component analysis and design, and energy storage.
Mechanical Engineering Graduates
Some companies with a track record of hiring WPI graduates include Raytheon, Gilette, General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, and MIT Lincoln Laboratory. The average starting salary for B.S.M.E. holders from WPI is $50,976 (CDC Web site) compared to a national average of $50,175.
While most WPI graduates enter the workforce directly, there are other options. WPI has a strong reputation in the academic community, opening the door to graduate school for those that are interested. In addition, many graduates find careers in alternative fields, such as insurance, marketing, investment banking, and law. In fact, a B.S. in an engineering field is considered a virtual pre-requisite for "Intellectual Property Law".