This page describes some suggested topics for student term projects, and presents a few representative samples of student work in the Fall 2002 class.

Suggested Term Project Topics

Progress has been made on some of these projects in previous years. Further work should critique the earlier work (copies of term project reports are available) and extend it.

Classroom Demonstration(s) of Physical System Modeling

Develop and model a portable (luggable?) experiment illustrating a key aspect of physical system modeling suitable for classroom demonstration use. Limited (very limited!) funds are available to cover hardware costs. Some ideas: consider two back-to-back electric fans (e.g. of the kind used to cool computers) as a demonstration of a fluid coupling; a moving-plate capacitor to illustrate multi-port storage; two gas cylinders at different pressures connected by a throttling valve to illustrate non-conductive entropy production; and many more...

Polymer-based Actuators

Polymers provide a novel and versatile substrate for implementing mechanical systems as they may be used to realize sensors, actuators and information processing components. Several alternative approaches to polymer-based actuators have been explored. Develop a model and simulation competent to reproduce the control-relevant behavior of a polymer-based actuator.

Stirling Engine

The Stirling engine operates by heating and cooling air in a closed cycle. It is also the focus of 2.670, in which ME undergraduates build and run a Stirling engine. Develop a dynamic model of the 2.670 Stirling engine. A working copy is available for examination.

Pneumo-elastic Finger

A pneumo-elastic finger has been proposed for robot hands. It consists of a series of interconnected inflatable elastomeric (rubber) discs connected on one side by a flexible "spine." Under air pressure, the discs inflate and push one another apart, thereby curling the restraining "spine." Features of these fingers include their ability to accommodate and enclose objects of arbitrary shape. Develop a static and dynamic model of the response of a pneumo-elastic finger to applied air pressure. A sample pneumo-elastic finger is available for examination.


The Airpot® is an adjustable dashpot. A sintered graphite piston slides in a glass cylinder (effectively eliminating any dry friction). Motion of the piston pumps air through an adjustable orifice, thereby dissipating energy. The operation of this device involves significant thermo-fluid effects (e.g. conversion of work to heat and convection of air through the orifice). Develop a model of this device that properly account for these thermo-fluid effects. A sample Airpot® is available for examination.

Student Projects

Pump Fault Detection and Diagnosis (FDD) Based on Electrical Startup Transient (PDF) (Courtesy of Peter Armstrong. Used with permission.)

Parameterization, Analysis and Simulation of a Heat Gun (PDF) (Courtesy of Thomas Bowers. Used with permission.)

Stirling Engine (PDF) (Courtesy of Marten Byl. Used with permission.)