Mechanical Engineering Research Groups

  • Advanced Robotics and Control (ARC)

    Professor David Braun
    Research in the Advanced Robotics and Control Laboratory is focused on the foundations of robotics by developing (1) control algorithms enabling data-driven optimal control of robots, (2) programable compliant actuators enabling the design of mechanically adaptive robots, and (3) prototype human augmentation devices that augment humans. Application areas include (a) real-time optimal control of robots that can improve by repeated experience somewhat similar to humans; (b) design of compliant actuators that can move robots more efficiently than motors, and (c) the creation of mechanically adaptive but unpowered robot exoskeletons to provide humans with capabilities beyond those of an unassisted human, to an extent previously thought to require large externally powered actuators.

  • Advanced Robotics and Mechanism Applications (ARMA)

    Professor Nabil Simaan
    The Advanced Robotics and Mechanism Applications (ARMA) lab is focused on the design of new mechanical robotic architectures. The main focus of the appliactions is on surgical assitance. We investigate algorithms of control and design of sensory mechaisms for enabling new procedures and for supporting intelligent and safe interaction with the anatomy. Existing and past research projects include synthesis of novel robotic systems for surgical assistance in confined spaces with applications to minimally invasive surgery of the throat, natural orifice surgery, single port access surgery, design of steerable electrode arrays and robotic path planning for cochlear implant surgery, dexterous bimanual microsurgery of the retina, and trans-urethreal surgical intervention. Theoretical aspects of the research include theoretical kinematics of mechanisms, synthesis and optimization of robots and mechanisms including flexible snake robots, design of flexure mechanisms and flexible robots, parallel robots, applications of line geometry tools and screw theory for analysis and synthesis of robotic devices, applications of actuation redundancy and kinematic redundancy for stiffness control (modulation), applications of algebraic geometry methods for polynomial system solving related to mechanism designs, optimal path planing and insertion of flexible under actuated robots.

    ARMA has projects funded by the NIH, NSF, and industry. Both graduate and undergraduate students are provided a unique education with a rare balance between design, control, system integration, and theoretical modeling of novel robotic systems. The lab facility has a full array of mechanical and electronic fabrication capabilities.  Full description of the lab activities is provided at

  • Biomechanics & Assistive Technology Laboratory

    Professor Karl Zelik
    The Biomechanics & Assistive Technology Laboratory performs experimental and computational research on human locomotion by combining techniques from engineering, biomechanics, bio-signal analysis and neural control of movement. The mission of our lab is to (1) gain a deeper understanding of mechanisms underlying legged locomotion, and (2) develop devices that better interface with and augment human movement, in order to improve mobility and quality of life for individuals with locomotor impairments. In effect, we study how humans move and why we move the way that we do, then use these biological insights to motivate advances in assistive and rehabilitative technology. To study human movement we use state-of-the-art measurement equipment, including an infrared motion capture system, force-instrumented treadmill, portable respirometry system and electromyographic (muscle activity) sensors. We develop new experimental approaches for assessing human mobility, and also perform computational simulations to better elucidate fundamental principles underlying locomotion. The goal is to translate our neuromechanical understanding of locomotion to improvements in the design and control of assistive technologies such as lower-limb prostheses. This interdisciplinary research is performed in collaboration with both local and international engineering and clinical partners.

  • Center for Intelligent Mechatronics

    Professor Michael Goldfarb
    The design and control of electro-mechanical devices is the primary concern of the Center for Intelligent Mechatronics, in which major efforts in the development of piezoelectrically-actuated small scale mobile robots, of piezoelectric motors, and of macro-micro telemanipulator systems for scaled bilateral teleoperation have been sustained.  Other work has involved issues related to the design of haptic interfaces and virtual mechanical environments, and the development of smart material based actuators.  The center includes a full complement of facilities for the prototyping, testing, and analysis of electromechanical devices.

  • Computational Flow Physics and Engineering (CFPE) Lab

    Professor Haoxiang Luo 
    The Computational Flow Physics and Engineering (CFPE) Lab develop numerical methods and computational models, and use high-performance computing to solve fluid flow problems, as well as problems involving multiphysics interaction of fluid flows with elastic structures or electricity.  The current research thrusts in the lab include: 1) modeling of fluid-structure interaction in vocal fold vibration for surgery planning of voice disorders, 2) the cardiovascular system including heart valves and graft, 3) aerodynamics and aeroelasticity of biological wings (e.g., insects and birds), and hydrodynamics of fish, for applications in unmanned aerial and underwater vehicles, and 4) particle-laden flows in electrochemical supercapacitors for energy storage and capacitive deionization systems for water treatment.

  • Laboratory for Advanced Materials

    Professor Leon Bellan
    The field of microfluidics is generally focused on fabricating devices for diagnostic purposes using traditional 2D lithographic techniques. In the Bellan Lab for Advanced Materials, we take a different approach, using a cotton candy machine to melt-spin a complex network of microfibers that can be used as a sacrificial template, yielding a “microfluidic material” containing tortuous interconnected microchannels throughout a large volume. Our research focuses both on developing an understanding of how this novel porosity affects material properties, and on demonstrating biomedical, structural, and energy related applications of microfluidic materials. The lab houses extensive fabrication and characterization facilities including a confocal microscope, a widefield fluorescence microscope, a mechanical load testing system, cell culture facilities, a plasma cleaner, several ovens, and of course a cotton candy machine. We also make use of shared facilities on campus and at national labs, and collaborate with several other research groups. Students working in the lab are exposed to a highly interdisciplinary collaborative environment that incorporates themes from mechanical, materials, biomedical, and chemical engineering. Current projects include using microfluidic networks within hydrogels to mimic a natural capillary bed for tissue engineering applications, expanding this unique manufacturing technique to additional materials systems, and characterizing the mechanical behavior of novel microfluidic structural materials.

  • Laboratory for the Design and Control of Energetic Systems

    Professor Eric J. Barth
    The Laboratory for the Design and Control of Energetic Systems seeks to apply a system dynamics and control perspective to problems involving the control and transduction of energy. This scope includes multi-physics modeling, control methodologies formulation, and model-based or model-guided design. The space of applications where this framework has been applied includes nonlinear controllers and nonlinear observers for pneumatically actuated systems, a combined thermodynamic / system dynamics approach to the design of free piston internal combustion and external heat source engines, modeling and model-based design and control of monopropellant systems, hydraulic energy storage, small-scale boundary layer turbines, and energy-based approaches for single and multiple vehicle control and guidance.

  • Laser Diagnostics of Combustion Laboratory

    Professor Robert W. Pitz
    Laser Diagnostics of Combustion Laboratory: Using advanced laser diagnostics, chemical reactions and pollutant generation are studied in flames that simulate combustion in gas turbines, direct injection spark ignition engines, and natural gas appliances. Chemical species and temperature are measured in laminar and turbulent flames with laser-induced Raman scattering and fluorescence. The velocity flow fields are determined with phase Doppler anemometry and advanced molecular methods such as ozone or hydroxyl tagging velocimetry. The laser measurements are combined with computer simulations to determine the effect of aerodynamics on combustion chemistry and mixing. New laser methods are developed for imaging of chemical species, fluid mixing, and fluid velocity.  Extensive experimental facilities are available including burners (laminar, turbulent), electronic cameras, lasers (excimer, dye, YAG), computers, and spectrometers.

  • Medical Engineering and Discovery Laboratory

    Professor Robert J. Webster III
    The Medical Engineering and Discovery Laboratory is a place where doctors and engineers work side by side to create new lifesaving medical technologies. We design and construct devices (often robots, but also useful non-robotic devices) to make interventional medicine more accurate, less invasive, and more effective. With a world-class medical center a 5-minute walk from the lab, we are often in operating rooms observing surgical procedures and conducting experiments with the devices we build. We also patent our work, which enables us to transfer it to commercial products, amplifying its real-world impact. Our partners include startup companies such as Pathfinder Theraputics and Acoustic MedSystems, as well as larger companies including Intuitive Surgical and MathWorks. Current major projects include a surgical robot with tentacle-like, needle-diameter arms that removes tumors from the center of the head through the nose (partnership with Neurosurgery), a parallel robot that reduces invasiveness in cochlear implant surgery which restores hearing to the deaf (partnership with Otolanrygology), as well as robotic systems to improve lung surgery, prostate surgery, and several different neurosurgical procedures. We often combine medical images, mechanics-based models, and advanced sensors and actuators to help doctors treat their patients more effectively. Graduate and undergraduate students in the MED Lab receive a unique educational experience in which they work side by side with surgeons, and are encouraged to pursue not only ongoing lab projects, but also their own ideas as they learn to be innovators in surgical engineering and robotics.

  • Micro/Nanoscale Thermal Fluids Laboratory

    Professor Deyu Li
    Research in the Micro/Nanoscale Thermal Fluids Laboratory focuses on development of novel devices for energy conversion and biomedical studies. We pursue fundamental understanding of thermal and fluid transport through nanowires and nanotubes by molecular dynamics, Monte Carlo simulation and experimental techniques. The acquired knowledge is used to develop high efficiency thermoelectric energy converters and nanofluidic lab-on-a-chip devices.

  • Nanoscale Optics and Materials Lab

    Professor Jason Valentine
    In the Nanoscale Optics and Materials Lab we are researching the optical properties and device applications of metamaterials. Optical metamaterials are nanostructured composites in which artificial meta-atoms are used to engineering the properties of the material, attaining values which do not exist in Nature. We are focused on developing new types of metamaterials with reduced optical loss in the infrared and visible frequency range as well as incorporating active constituents into metamaterials such as semiconductors to enable switching, light detection, or direct energy conversion. Another focus of the lab is engineering metamaterials and associated optical antennae to serve as nanoscale heat sources. Along with fundamental studies into the optical properties, we are also focused on applying metamaterials for a range of applications including on-chip photonics, imaging, and solar energy conversion. Research in the laboratory involves both theoretical modeling as well as experimental demonstration and characterization. We are heavy users of the state-of-the-art Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and the center piece of the laboratory is an ultra-fast femtosecond laser system and micro-spectroscopy system which allows probing of the linear, non-linear, and time-dependent properties of materials across the entire optical spectrum.

  • Robotics and Autonomous Systems Laboratory

    Professor Nilanjan Sarkar
    The focus of the Robotics and Autonomous Systems Laboratory is both theoretical investigation into the dynamics of mechanical and electro-mechanical systems and the application of advanced planning and control strategies for controlling such systems. Primary research efforts are on the dynamics and control of autonomous dynamic systems, such as robotic manipulators, mobile robots, mobile manipulators, and other robotic devices. The aim is to combine the advantages of several robotic systems to design a more versatile autonomous system. The potential applications of such research can be in manufacturing, medical robotics, and in various service areas where robotic assistance is useful to the human operators. Other research interests of this laboratory include the areas of modeling and control of hybrid dynamic systems and biologically inspired robotics. Hybrid dynamic systems involve both discrete and continuous time dynamics and are useful in a variety of applications. Biologically inspired robotics seeks to improve the design and performance of robots by studying living systems (e.g., insects, animals, etc.). Future work will include the use of predictive virtual environments for autonomous exploration.

  • Miniature Robotics Laboratory

    Professor Xiaoguang Dong
    Miniature Robotics Laboratory is focusing on the computational design, advanced fabrication, and intelligent control of novel functional miniature mechanism, devices, and robots, as well as the development of their wireless actuation, control, and sensing systems. Ongoing research highlight includes developing novel minimally invasive medical functions of wireless miniature robots, such as biofluid pumping, local drug delivery, targeted biopsy, removing blood clots, and other surgical operations. The long-term research goal of Dong Lab is to resolve challenging technical and societal problems in health care, environmental exploration, and other critical areas, with three core research topics: 1) The design, manufacture and control of miniature soft robots, and their applications in minimally invasive medicine, microfluidics and biomechanics. 2) The design, manufacture and control of miniature swarm robots, and their applications in biomedicine and biomechanics. 3) The modeling, design, manufacture and control of intelligent soft materials and devices based on mechanics model and machine learning.

  • The Tennessee Space Grant Consortium

    Professor A. M. Strauss
    The Tennessee Space Grant Consortium is funded via a NASA grant and is based in Vanderbilt's Mechanical Engineering Department.  The Consortium's mission is to promote space and science research and education from K-12 to the graduate level.  Since 1990, the Consortium has supported Space Grant Fellows within the Mechanical Engineering Department, in other areas of the University, and at its member and affiliate institutions throughout the state.  These fellowships provide both tuition and stipend support to qualified students conducting research in space and space education related areas. 

  • Thermal Engineering Laboratory

    Professor D. Greg Walker
    The Thermal Engineering Laboratory is dedicated to scientific discovery at the frontiers of heat transfer. Current research includes investigation of new transient thermometry using thermographic phosphors, modeling and simulation of noncontinuum energy transport in microelectronic devices, quantum energy conversion devices, radiation effects in nanostructures, and novel electronics cooling technologies. All efforts are grounded in fundamental thermo-physical processes but expand the boundaries of traditional heat transfer applications.

  • Welding Automation Laboratory

    Professor A. M. Strauss
    The Vanderbilt University Welding Automation Laboratory (VUWAL) has spent more than three decades developing control systems for advanced robotic welding and joining processes. Most recently the efforts of the lab have largely been focused on process optimization and control for friction stir welding (FSW). FSW is a solid-state welding technique patented by TWI in 1991. Its use is becoming more and more prevalent in aerospace, rail, automotive and naval applications. By focusing on process optimization of FSW we are able to develop robust control systems that are capable of detecting undesirable flaws within the weld, monitor tool wear and react to dynamic changes in the process, among other things. Other notable research includes characterizing tool wear, dissimilar metal welding, computational fluid dynamic modeling of FSW and the development of technology for actively monitoring the FSW process for control and quality applications. The VUWAL research facility is located on the engineering campus in Featheringill Hall. The lab is directed by Alvin M. Strauss and George E. Cook.