Departmental News & Awards Spring/Summer 2017

Departmental and Research News

  • The Department of Mechanical Engineering ranks number 1 in the US News & World Reports annual rankings as well as QS World University Rankings for 2017.
  • Associate Professor Xuanhe Zhao and his team designed a new “living material” — a tough, stretchy, biocompatible sheet of hydrogel injected with live cells that are genetically programmed to light up in the presence of certain chemicals. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • Professor Anette “Peko” Hosoi and collaborators designed a microfluidic device called a “tree-on-a-chip,” which mimics the pumping mechanism of trees and plants. The research was published in Nature Plants.
  • Seniors Gabe Alba and Victoria Gregory launched a product, first conceived in course 2.009, called Coffee Cookie – a circular, battery-operated drink warmer.
  • A new system developed by Associate Professor Gareth McKinley and Professor Kripa Varanasi could make it possible to control the way water moves over a surface, using only light. The system was reported in the journal Nature Communications.


  • Ernesto E. Blanco, a renowned inventor, mechanical designer, and beloved former professor in MechE, passed away on March 21, in Murrieta, California. He was 94 years old. Over the span of a half-century, Blanco designed a number of groundbreaking devices that aided the handicapped — including the first stair-climbing wheelchair and an improved Braille typewriter.Ernesto Blanco stands near a model of his invention, the stair climbing wheelchair, one of 150 inventions showcased in the museum. Photo by Dominick Reuter

Faculty Awards

  • Assistant Professor Amos Winter has been awarded the 2016-2017 Harold E. Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award, reserved for junior members of the MIT faculty who have demonstrated outstanding abilities in teaching, research, and service. Additionally, he received an NSF CAREER Award for research on passive prosthetic leg dynamics.
  • Assistant Professor Alexie Kolpak received an NSF CAREER Award for her research on oxide electrocatalysts in aqueous environments.
  • Professor Alexander Slocum and Professor Ioannis Yannas were both elected to the National Academy of Engineering.
  • Associate Professor Maria Yang has been named a 2017 MacVicar Fellow, an undergraduate teaching award, given for outstanding teaching, mentoring and education innovation.
  • Associate Professor Kripa Varanasi, along with colleagues at University College London and Kansas University, has been awarded a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenge grant for innovation in global vaccine manufacturing.
  • Professor David Parks was awarded the Daniel C. Drucker Medal by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers for seminal contributions to the formulation of constitutive theories and computational procedures for large inelastic deformation and failure of metals and polymers.
  • Professor Emeritus Jerome Milgram received the 2017 Gibbs Brothers Medal from the National Academy of Sciences for his work in naval architecture.

Student Awards

  • Natasha Wright received the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for her work improving drinking-water quality and understanding household water-usage habits in rural India.
  • Seniors Grace Li, Jessica (Jialin) Shi, and Charlene Xia and their team won the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for creating a real-time text to Braille converter
  • Katy Olesnavage has been awarded the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for her new design method for a low-cost, high-performance passive prosthetic foot.
  • PhD Candidate Maher Damak won a 2016 World Technology Award for his work on reducing runoff of agricultural pesticides by making sprays “stickier.”
  • Kristen Railey was awarded as one of “Tomorrow’s Engineering Leaders: The 20 Twenties” by Aviation Week.
  • Maher Damak and Karim Khalil, along with Associate Professor Kripa Varanasi, received the MIT Clean Energy prize for their start-up Infinite Cooling.
  • Graduate student John Lewandowski made Forbes’ 2017 30 Under 30 list for founding the Disease Diagnostic Group, which screens patients for malaria in just five seconds with a reusable handheld device.


This article originally appeared in the 2017 Spring/Summer Issue of MechE Connects.