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September 9, 2020

A message from new ME department chair Darryl Thelen

Written By: Webmanager


 Darryl Thelen
Darryl Thelen

Greetings! I am excited and humbled to take over as chair of the UW-Madison Department of Mechanical Engineering, following seven years of exceptional leadership by Jaal Ghandhi. During Jaal’s term, the department hired a terrific group of 18 faculty who are taking us in exciting new directions. He forged strong relationships with our alumni, many of whom have generously given back in a way that enables strategic new investments in education and research. To top it off, Jaal guided us during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as our normal models of teaching were thrown into disarray. The department is in a good position, and we are excited to move forward and build from here.

I joined the department as an assistant professor in 2002. I teach in the dynamics and controls area, and my research is in musculoskeletal biomechanics. I love working with undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctorates who, after all these years, continue to teach me new things and provide the vibrant learning atmosphere that attracted me to academia. I spent the last three years as associate dean for research in the College of Engineering, where I gained an appreciation for the tremendous breadth and complexity of research activities across the university and college. I am more convinced than ever that mechanical engineering is well poised to contribute to our increasingly interdisciplinary environment.

The response to the pandemic of our faculty, instructors and teaching assistants has been outstanding. They stepped up to address myriad challenges that came with pivoting to fully online education mid-spring. This fall, we are employing a hybrid teaching model with a mix of online lectures and in-person instruction in some discussion sections, labs and smaller classes.

Some of our researchers have spent the summer investigating non-medical-grade PPE that is used to help mitigate coronavirus spread. In particular, professors Dave Rothamer and Scott Sanders did extensive testing on aerosol transmission through masks. Their work has been valuable in informing PPE choices and distancing measures across campus. While our planning has been extensive, the situation remains fluid and we are ready to adapt our modes of instruction as needed to continue to deliver a quality mechanical engineering education to our students, wherever they may be.

Join us in welcoming Michael Wagner as a new assistant professor in fall 2020. Michael previously worked as a senior research engineer for the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). He studies energy systems optimization, which is needed for efficiently incorporating renewable energy into the grid. We are excited to have him on our faculty, and for our students to have new opportunities to work on important problems in renewable technologies.

Thank you for your continued interest in and support of the department. On, Wisconsin!

Darryl Thelen
John Bollinger Chair of Mechanical Engineering
Bernard A. and Frances M. Weideman Professor