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Upgraded computer facility in MechE to be dedicated

The Department of Mechanical Engineering's undergraduate computer lab, which recently received a substantial equipment upgrade as a result of an alumnus donation, will be dedicated tomorrow as the Papken Der Torossian Undergraduate Computing Facility.

Twenty-one new, high-performance Silicon Graphics workstations running within the Athena operating system will be used by students in all the new courses in the department's revised curriculum.

The lab was made possible by a generous donation from Mr. Der Torossian (SB '60), chairman of the board and CEO of Silicon Valley Group (SVG), a supplier of lithography, photo-processing and other semiconductor manufacturing equipment. "It is an honor for me to help out in a small way to educate the best and the brightest at MIT," Mr. Der Torossian said.

The lab allows 20 students and one instructor to work interactively. There is a projection screen for computer displays as well as new network connections and furniture. A flatbed scanner and Power PC Macintosh have also been added to support Web page and presentation development.

During IAP, second-year students in 2.670 (Mechanical Engineering Tools) use the lab to learn parametric CAD and numerical analysis as they design and analyze a miniature Stirling engine that they build during the course. Project-focused, experiential teaching methods like this are being adopted by the department in its new curriculum.

The idea, according to Professor Nam Suh, department head, is "to improve our teaching extensively. With modern computing, we can now numerically model, analyze and redesign real systems. We no longer need to restrict our teaching to simple unrealistic examples that can be solved in closed form. The new Papken Der Torossian Undergraduate Computing Facility is our first step in providing the required facilities to make this pedagogical change."

The department has completed the second year of its revamped curriculum, which incorporates a required core of classes in four areas: design and manufacture; dynamics, systems and controls; thermal and fluids engineering; and mechanics and materials. The software tool Pro/Engineer is used in the design courses, Matlab in the systems/controls and thermal fluids courses, and ABAQUS in the materials courses.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 21, 1997.

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