Mechanical Engineering Program

Graduates of the Mechanical Engineering program at the University of Virginia have the knowledge, skills and attitudes that will allow them to make tangible contributions, meet new technical challenges, contribute effectively as team members, and be innovators in the analysis, design and implementation of creative solutions to problems with mechanical devices and systems. They communicate effectively and interact responsibly with colleagues, clients, employers and society.

Mechanical engineering is one of the largest, broadest, and oldest engineering disciplines. It continues the traditions of natural philosophy from Mr. Jefferson’s original vision for the University[1]. Mechanical engineers use the principles of energy, materials, and mechanics to design, analyze, optimize, and manufacture machines and devices of all types. They create the processes and systems that drive technology and industry. The key characteristics of the profession are its breadth, flexibility, and individuality. The career paths of mechanical engineers are largely determined by individual choices, a decided advantage in a changing world.

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The Field

Mechanics, energy and heat, mathematics, engineering sciences, design and manufacturing form the foundation of mechanical engineering. Mechanics includes fluids, ranging from still water to gases flowing hypersonically around a space vehicle; it involves the motion of anything from a particle to a machine or complex structure. Analysis, design and synthesis are the key functions of mechanical engineers. The question is often how devices and processes actually work. The first step is to visualize what is happening and clearly state the problem. A mechanical engineer will then use computer-based modeling, simulation, and visualization techniques to test different solutions. Design is one of the most satisfying jobs for a mechanical engineer. It is very gratifying to realize that an engineer can prevent more injuries with a single design than a doctor can repair in a lifetime. “Synthesis” is when you pull all the factors together in a design that can be successfully manufactured. Design problems are challenging because most are open-ended, without a single or best answer. There is no best mousetrap — just better ones.

The Undergraduate Curriculum

Students take a sequence of basic and engineering science courses. They develop engineering problem solving skills in the areas of mechanics,thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, heat transfer, materials and automatic controls. Students learn to use higher mathematics, statistics and modern computer techniques and productivity tools. The students will use symbolic and high-level mathematics tools, solid modeling and finite element analysis tools, as well as computational fluids dynamics and materials selection tools. They also have access to a state-of the art rapid prototyping facility with numerous 3D printers, CNC machines, laser cutters, and the rapid prototyping facility can be used both for course work, as well as individual entrepreneurial initiatives. Mechanical engineering principles are reinforced and integrated through design assignments and “hands-on” laboratory courses in experimental methods, digital electronics, and electro-mechanical systems. Students conduct experiments in labs where they use digital data acquisition systems to evaluate the performance of instruments, motors, engines, electrical circuits, signal processing equipment and solid state control devices. For each lab module, students develop a hypothesis, design the experiment, carry out the test, and perform the data analysis.

The two-semester lab sequence in the third year familiarizes students with the state-of-the-art equipment used in modern industry. Working both individually and in teams, students also develop communications skills and learn about the complex cultural, legal, ethical and economic factors which influence the engineering profession. Those who wish to may select courses that satisfy the requirements of a minor area of study (e.g., aerospace, bio-medical, environmental management, engineering business).


Research Experience for Undergraduates Research is an important component of our undergraduate program in Mechanical Engineering. Many students are involved in hands-on research in one of the many active research laboratories within the department, either as paid research assistants or eager volunteers.

From the Center for Applied Biomechanics, to the Nanoscale Energy Transfer Lab, or the Mechatronics Lab—-opportunities abound. Our students have won more Harrison Research Awards than any other department in SEAS, as a testament to the many excellent opportunities that exist. Many students even begin this research in their second or third year, preparing them for outstanding senior thesis projects.