Mechanical engineering is one of the largest, broadest, and oldest engineering disciplines. It continues the traditions of natural philosophy from Mr. Jefferson’s original vision for the University. Mechanical engineers use the principles of energy, materials, and mechanics to design, analyze, optimize, and manufacture machines and devices of all types. They create the processes and systems that drive technology and industry. The key characteristics of the profession are its breadth, flexibility, and individuality. The career paths of mechanical engineers are largely determined by individual choices, a decided advantage in a changing world.
Mechanics, energy and heat, mathematics, engineering sciences, design and manufacturing form the foundation of mechanical engineering. Mechanics includes fluids, ranging from still water to gases flowing hypersonically around a space vehicle; it involves the motion of anything from a particle to a machine or complex structure. Analysis, design and synthesis are the key functions of mechanical engineers. The question is often how devices and processes actually work. The first step is to visualize what is happening and clearly state the problem. A mechanical engineer will then use computer-based modeling, simulation, and visualization techniques to test different solutions. Design is one of the most satisfying jobs for a mechanical engineer. It is very gratifying to realize that an engineer can prevent more injuries with a single design than a doctor can repair in a lifetime. “Synthesis” is when you pull all the factors together in a design that can be successfully manufactured. Design problems are challenging because most are open-ended, without a single or best answer. There is no best mousetrap — just better ones.
The Undergraduate Curriculum
Students take a sequence of basic and engineering science courses. They develop engineering problem solving skills in the areas of mechanics,thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, heat transfer, materials and automatic controls. Students learn to use higher mathematics, statistics and modern computer techniques and productivity tools. The students will use symbolic and high-level mathematics tools, solid modeling and finite element analysis tools, as well as computational fluids dynamics and materials selection tools. They also have access to a state-of the art rapid prototyping facility with numerous 3D printers, CNC machines, laser cutters, and the rapid prototyping facility can be used both for course work, as well as individual entrepreneurial initiatives. Mechanical engineering principles are reinforced and integrated through design assignments and “hands-on” laboratory courses in experimental methods, digital electronics, and electro-mechanical systems. Students conduct experiments in labs where they use digital data acquisition systems to evaluate the performance of instruments, motors, engines, electrical circuits, signal processing equipment and solid state control devices. For each lab module, students develop a hypothesis, design the experiment, carry out the test, and perform the data analysis.
The two-semester lab sequence in the third year familiarizes students with the state-of-the-art equipment used in modern industry. Working both individually and in teams, students also develop communications skills and learn about the complex cultural, legal, ethical and economic factors which influence the engineering profession. Those who wish to may select courses that satisfy the requirements of a minor area of study (e.g., aerospace, bio-medical, environmental management, engineering business).
For more detailed information, please visit the Undergraduate Curriculum page.
Research Experience for Undergraduates Research is an important component of our undergraduate program in Mechanical Engineering. Many students are involved in hands-on research in one of the many active research laboratories within the department, either as paid research assistants or eager volunteers.
From the Center for Applied Biomechanics, to the Nanoscale Energy Transfer Lab, or the Mechatronics Lab—-opportunities abound. Our students have won more Harrison Research Awards than any other department in SEAS, as a testament to the many excellent opportunities that exist. Many students even begin this research in their second or third year, preparing them for outstanding senior thesis projects.
The UVA-Stony Brook collaboration is among 124 student engineering teams from 27 U.S. states and 30 countries selected to participate in the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Design Weekend at Texas A&M University. Mike Park, a third-year mechanical engineering major, and a team of UVA engineering and architecture students, worked with a team from the State University of New York at Stony Brook to develop a design for the Hyperloop capsule, or pod. Pictured is the UVA team – back, from left: Alishan Hassan, Seth Morris and Aleksander De Mott. Front, from left: Milton Su and Mike Park.
President Barack Obama recently announced that Associate Professor Patrick Hopkins will receive the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their research careers: the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. “I am not only honored, I am humbled,” Hopkins said. “Being recognized as one of the top young scientists in the country motivates me to be the best researcher I can be, and to contribute to ensuring that the University of Virginia is doing the best possible research. Because of the grant that comes with this award, we will be able to build experiments that push the limits of what people understand about heat transfer on the atomic scale.”
 Originally there were eight independent schools in Mr. Jefferson’s University: ancient languages, modern languages, mathematics, natural philosophy, moral philosophy, chemistry, medicine, and law.