Aerospace engineering is a science and technology related to the research, design, testing, and production of aircraft, missiles, and spacecraft. Faculty members within the MECH department study a wide range of aerospace related subjects from aerodynamics and propulsion, to aeroelasticity and structural dynamics. Our faculty conduct research to improve the understanding and modeling of physical phenomenon, improve the accuracy and efficiency of numerical and experimental analyses, and optimize the solutions to complex problems involving multiple interacting physical mechanisms.
Numerous disciplines within mechanical engineering have important applications to biomedical problems. Faculty members within the MECH department are using their technical knowledge and experience to develop innovative solutions to biomedical problems on multiple length scales. These research efforts are seeking to improve the quality of life for individuals who suffer from neurological disorders, orthopedic conditions, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, infectious diseases, and even cancer. The department is located across the street from the Texas Medical Center, the largest concentration of doctors, hospitals, and medical researcher in the world.
Computational Fluid Dynamics
The CFD experts at Rice University develop and utilize novel methods for accurate and efficient simulation of complex thermo-fluid systems. Our work in this area is often motivated by challenging problems in aerospace engineering, biomedical engineering, and energy and environmental sciences. Our faculty use methods such as finite difference, finite element, lattice Boltzmann, machine learning, and spectral techniques to conduct state-of-the-art simulations of low-Reynolds number or turbulent flows, fluid-solid interaction, flow in porous media, and thermal convection.
Energy & the Environment
As our society continues to grow and develop, we face an incredible challenge meeting an unprecedented demand for production and distribution of energy. We draw from the diverse experience of our faculty to address this challenge using numerical modeling, theoretical analysis, and rigorous experimentation. We promote the enhanced recovery of naturally-derived fuels using physics-based artificial intelligence, enable enhancements in electrical power generation efficiency, and push thermal management of high-powered electronics to new limits. Our work in renewable energy includes concentrating photovoltaic systems and new types of wind turbines. Finally, our faculty members develop large-scale advanced climate prediction models using machine learning.
Fluid–structure interaction (FSI) is a class of problems with mutual dependence between the fluid and structural mechanics parts. The flow behavior depends on the shape of the structure and its motion, and the motion and deformation of the structure depend on the fluid mechanics forces acting on the structure. We see FSI almost everywhere in engineering, sciences, and medicine, and also in our daily lives. The fluttering of aircraft wings, deflection of wind-turbine blades, dynamics of spacecraft parachutes, pumping of blood by the ventricles of the human heart, accompanied by the opening and closing of the heart valves, and blood flow and arterial dynamics are all FSI examples.
Mechanics, Dynamics, & Controls
Mechanics, dynamics, and controls seek to understand how media respond to external stimuli acting upon it, and how to control that response. Often mechanics is associated with the study of solid mechanics, which specifically focuses on how materials deform and fail under external loads. The field of mechanics, however, is much broader than this. Research within this area includes computational, analytical, and experimental methods. Specific specializations of Rice’s faculty include computational mechanics (and finite element theory), fracture, fatigue, and failure mechanics, biomechanics, structural mechanics, fluid mechanics, and materials characterization.
Mechanical Design & Robotics
Mechanical Design uses various computational tools for for the application of mechanical principles, both classic and for a specific focus. For example, robotic systems have often been described as those that sense, analyze, and act on the world around them. Modern robotic systems go further. Sensor data is transformed using artificial intelligence and machine learning, giving robotic devices the capability to perceive the world around them, putting key information in context. Analysis extends to understanding, giving the robot situational awareness. Finally, actions transform into solutions, enabling autonomous interactions with the environment.
Research in the Thermo-Fluid Sciences area focuses on understanding and controlling the fluid dynamics and heat transport in engineered and natural systems. Our research is motivated by diverse applications ranging from additive manufacturing, energy systems, and thermal management to biosensing, climate modeling, and aerodynamics. Researchers collaborate within Mechanical Engineering and across disciplines to answer fundamental and applied research questions using computational and experimental methods.
A growing field of interest is tribology, the study of interactive surfaces, including friction and wear, at all scales, from nano to macro. Our researchers focus on measuring and analyzing friction in dynamic structures made by joining parts, with applications in the aerospace, defense and automotive industries. Tribology is highly interdisciplinary, drawing on many academic fields beyond mechanical engineering, including physics, chemistry, materials science, mathematics and biology. Wear has a significant functional and economic impact on surfaces, based on such variables as load, speed, lubrication and environmental conditions.