On July 23, 2013, Gang Chen, the Carl Richard Soderberg Professor of Power Engineering, became the head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He replaces Mary C. Boyce PhD ’87, who left MIT this summer to become the new dean of Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.
After gathering input from faculty, staff, and students through a Search Advisory Committee, Dean of the School of Engineering Ian A. Waitz named Chen as the new MechE head. According to the MIT News Office, in an email sent to the MechE community, Waitz wrote, “Professor Chen’s leadership, vision, dedication and strong sense of community will keep the department on its path of excellence and help it flourish in the days ahead.”
“I am honored and humbled to have their confidence and support as the new department head,” Chen told The Tech. “I am delighted to have the opportunity to give back to the community that has given me so much over the last twelve years.”
One of Chen’s priorities is continuing the department’s interdisciplinary culture. He plans to take advantage of MechE’s diverse faculty, students, and postdocs to build strong partnerships across MIT and “collectively address grand challenges facing our society.”
Students will also continue to benefit under Chen’s leadership, who plans to continue incorporating research into the classroom experience. Furthermore, the more-flexible Course 2A major will continue to be supported. “For the entire MechE community, most of all our students, MechE is like a second home,” he said. “It is of the utmost importance to me to support our students in every way possible by ensuring that they have access to the best labs and the best faculty, and by providing the tools and resources they need to succeed.”
Another challenge he faces is addressing the growing interest in online education. Chen will work with faculty and students to “develop innovative online education materials and integrate them seamlessly into our renowned hands-on residential learning.” This past spring, Professor Simona Socrate PhD ’95 taught 2.01x (Elements of Structures) on EdX, and there are plans for more Course 2 EdX classes in the future.
Using online materials to aid the classroom experience is becoming increasingly common at MIT. For example, in the Department of Material Science and Engineering, students of 3.091 (Solid State Chemistry) this fall will use the EdX platform to watch video clips and perform simple exercises.
Chen told The Tech that he remains focused on “nurturing a classroom experience that quickly incorporates ground breaking research that reinforces and evolves MechE core values” and “creating a mutually beneficial relationship between our faculty and students.”
As a scholar, Chen has published over 280 articles and has more than 30 patents granted or pending. At MIT, he directs the Pappalardo Micro and Nano Engineering Laboratory and the Solid-State Solar-Thermal Energy Conversion Center (S3TEC). Chen’s research has focused on the study of fundamental energy conversion which has applications in thermoelectronics and photovoltaics.
Chen earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in power engineering from Wuhan, China’s Huazhong University of Science and Technology in 1984 and 1987, respectively. He received his PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley in 1993.
After teaching at Duke and the University of California, Los Angeles, Chen joined the MIT faculty in 2001 as an associate professor of Mechanical Engineering. He has been a professor since 2004.