Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering

Building practical knowledge

For Thomas Lau, left, and Wei Zhou, right, 2010 graduates of mechanical and mechatronics engineering’s course-based Master of Engineering program, learning happened both inside and outside the classroom.

Thomas Lau and Wei Zhou with their instructor Oscar Nespoli

While partnering on a design project for Research In Motion, the two found themselves giving presentations to RIM engineers, building prototypes – and even spending a day on a manufacturing assembly line to get some hands-on experience. “The program provided me with opportunities to build my practical knowledge,” says Zhou, now permanently employed by RIM.

 

Not only that, the MEng program with a specialization in design offered Zhou and Lau weekly mentoring by faculty members who provided them with invaluable business skills. One of their instructors was Oscar Nespoli, centre, who joined the mechanical and mechatronics department in 2007 after spending over 20 years working in industry as a professional engineer and senior manager.

Lau was accepted to three other universities but chose Waterloo because he liked the program’s focus. “What I wanted was real-life experience,” says Lau. “I got that here.”

Highlights

  • Faculty member Greg Glinka was recognized by the International Committee on Fatigue Damage of Materials and Structures with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • Professor Peter Teertstra was appointed the first director of the student design centre in Engineering 5.
  • Faculty member Carolyn Ren became the new Canada Research Chair in Lab-on-a-Chip Technology. Ren heads the Waterloo Microfluidics Laboratory, which is involved in the development of lab-on-a-chip devices.

Following in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes looks at a worn cuff and mud-splattered trousers and declares the wearer is a left-handed butcher from Nottingham. Mechanical and mechatronics engineering professor Kyle Daun’s pronouncements might not be quite so dramatic, but the Conan Doyle fan takes the same “inverse analysis” approach to his research in thermal radiation.

“It’s all about inferring the state of a system from the parameters you observe,” he explains. In Daun’s case, that could mean anything from analyzing patterns of light radiation to figuring out the size of soot particles in car exhaust or the amount of gas escaping from a storage tank.

Since inverse problems often have an infinite number of potential solutions that could explain the observations, solving them isn’t for the faint of heart. “The trick,” Daun says, “is to use math to whittle down the infinite possibilities to something that is plausible.”

By applying this technique to radiative transfer, Daun is breaking new ground – and attracting international attention in the process. Last year the Journal of Quantitative Spectroscopy and Radiative Transfer named him the top researcher in his field under the age of 36.

Daun attributes his success to good mentorship, a cross-disciplinary approach and great timing. Thanks to the power of today’s computers he and his colleagues can tackle problems considered impossible a mere decade ago. “I tell my undergraduate students that this is a really exciting time to get into research.” Daun says.