Faculty Focus: Professor David J. Hoelzle
Each month, we highlight our talented faculty who continue to attract the best and brightest engineering students and whose insights and research keep us at the leading edge of innovation and discovery. They are leaders in engineering practice, sought after by industry, government and the broader community.
What is the focus of your research and why is it significant?
The focus of my research is control theory, with an emphasis on robotic systems in which feedback control is challenged because microscale phenomena are difficult to measure in real-time (Fig. 1). In particular, I am interested in two applications with important societal impacts, microscale additive manufacturing (µ-AM) and mechanobiology characterization.
- µ-AM: AM will fundamentally change how we manufacture select, high-value-added meso-scale parts. µ-AM is poised to have equally substantial impacts. µ-AM systems can fabricate electronic and optic devices and biosensors with previously unobtainable architectures and without cleanroom facilities, thus enabling new functionality and reducing environmental and infrastructural costs. However, the microscale regime introduces a multitude of robotics and control challenges.
- Mechanobiology characterization: Mechanobiology researchers have unveiled the complicated and intricate interdependence between cell and tissue mechanics, microenvironment mechanics, and expressed genetics and epigenetics. New tools that dramatically increase mechanical property measurement throughput or apply controlled mechanical perturbations to cultured tissues will improve our understanding of these relationships, impacting developmental biology and cancer research.
Why should a prospective student consider mechanical engineering? What skills or background do you look for in a prospective student?
In general, the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) is the largest department in a College of Engineering. And this is not by accident. The ME curriculum is very diverse, spanning from mechanics to robotics to design, and often has significant overlap with other departments; the field robotics would be an example where ME, Electrical Engineering, and Computer Science all have their own flavor of robotics. Take a look at the research interests of the faculty in this Dept. and you’ll see that our interests span a large range of engineering research. Despite being a broad curriculum, ME is also very rigorous and, in my opinion, our graduates are excellently trained to become fantastic engineers, but also business men and women, doctors, lawyers… you name it.
When recruiting graduate students, I look for students who have had a rigorous undergraduate curriculum (typically look for MEs, EEs, ChemEs, or physics), excelled in this curriculum as evidenced by their GPA and letters of recommendation, and have had some sort of engineering experience where their mentors/bosses state that this prospective student is excellent. Lastly, and not to be discounted, is that modern engineering is multidisciplinary and you must be able to effectively communicate why your work is important; I look for students that are comfortable describing their previous experiences and are excited about what they do.
What do you like most about your job?
I have the best job in the world. It is demanding, but it is the best. Every day I get to work with bright students in the classroom and/or mentor my excellent graduate students in the lab. In the research lab, we have been fortunate enough to get funding to pursue some really interesting research topics, some of which no one else (that we are aware of) is working on. It’s a great opportunity.
What advice would you give students considering an engineering career?
It’s worth it. Engineering is a lot of work and you are going to be much busier and stressed than your friends in other majors. But, you’ll learn a lot about problem solving, manufacturing, product design, and many other skills that make and engineering degree so valuable. There is a reason why engineers get high-paying jobs right after completing their bachelor’s degree.
What is a hobby or interest you pursue outside of your work interests?
Occasionally I work up enough motivation to run a race. I ran the Columbus half marathon this past fall… and didn’t do too much worse than I did when I was younger.