Professor Sridhar Kota, Mechanical Engineering; Herrick Professor of Engineering
Sridhar Kota, the Herrick Professor of Engineering, has reached the pinnacle of his profession, earning numerous accolades for his research, inventions and published papers as well as the Mechanical Engineering Achievement Award at the University of Michigan in 2012, and the 2017 Distinguished University Innovator Award. His career has been focused on design for manufacturability, bio-inspired engineering design including topology, size and shape optimization of compliant mechanisms, product design for no-assembly, adaptive structures and MEMS. He is also actively engaged in public policy and advanced manufacturing.
During the summer of 2014, engineers at Professor Kota's company Flexsys first replaced an airplane’s conventional aluminum flaps with advanced, shape-changing assemblies that form seamless bendable and twistable surfaces. The Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge (ACTE) project is a joint effort between NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), to demonstrate shape-changing aircraft wings designed and built by Kota’s company, FlexSys, Inc., based in Ann Arbor. FlexSys developed a variable geometry airfoil system called FlexFoilTM (Kota's invention) that can be retrofitted to existing airplane wings or integrated into brand new airframes. ACTE technology is expected to have far-reaching effects on future aviation. Recent test flights validated key elements of the experimental shape-shifting control surfaces and NASA and Air Force expects the technology to make future aircraft lighter, more efficient, and quieter -- as well as save hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel costs.
Q: What do you count as the highlight of your career thus far?
A: There are two. The first is the invention of FlexFoilTM. It is the next generation of how aircraft wings will be designed. We were the first ones to fly a commercial aircraft with shape-changing wings (without flaps) since the Wright brothers. Although researchers tried to accomplish this elusive goal of creating seamless shape-changing wings for decades, the secret to FlexFoil's success was the underlying principles of a new paradigm, in mechanical design, called complaint design that I developed. Shape-changing wing is just one of the applications of this new paradigm in engineering design.
Second, is my appointment to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from 2009 to 2011. I served as the Assistant Director for Advanced Manufacturing under President Obama. In this role, I developed policy recommendations and implementation strategies to enhance U.S. manufacturing competitiveness and foster innovation-based manufacturing of emerging technologies. One of my key recommendations was to establish Manufacturing Innovation Institutes to close our innovation gap between science and manufacturing. The President and his Council of Advisors on Science and Technology embraced this idea in early 2011. I also initiated and launched a few other initiatives including a National Robotics Initiative, connecting American Manufacturers to defense needs and National Digital Engineering and Manufacturing Consortium. There is a photo of me with President Obama that was a big surprise. After his speech in June 2011 when he first announced the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership program that I helped orchestrate, the white House OSTP office organized a surprise visit by the President in the back stage to thank me for my contributions. I worked hard those three year and I am very proud of what was accomplished.
Q: What would students or other faculty be surprised to know about you?
A: Although I taught several upper level and graduate courses during 27+ years at U-M, I really enjoyed teaching Freshman engineering 100 course for the first time last Fall. It is challenging and I learned a lot. I think it is important to inspire students about the big picture and possibilities of engineering early on. Engineers have to be perceptive and creative individuals. I wrote a blog on Engineering 2.0, that captures my thinking on how engineering is different from science and it emphasizes creative aspects. If engineering is portrayed correctly as a creative discipline for innovators and entrepreneurs who want to change the world, just as many middle school girls as boys are likely to be inspired to pursue engineering as a career.
Some of my colleagues are surprised to find out that I follow NFL passionately. I'm a huge fan of Minnesota Vikings. My wife and I grew up in Minneapolis and I went to school there.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I have many ideas that I want to take to market - including novel medical devices. I wish I had more time to do things like that. I continue to work on things I am interested in - from new designs to technology policy.
Right now I am working on the Institute for Manufacturing Leadership - a think-and-do tank focusing on policy education and outreach. I launched the University of Michigan's Public-Private Stakeholders Symposium in Washington DC last year. The idea is to convene thought leaders from industry, government and academia to address science and technology related topics of national priority and make practical recommendations. The first such symposium on "Shale Gas: A Game Changer for American Manufacturing" that I launched last year, in collaboration with my colleague Professor Mark Barteau, was well received. More broadly, I would like to elevate U-M’s brand in Washington, D.C. because I believe given the intellectual breadth and depth across this campus, we collectively have much to offer in guiding national policy in education and research. (Learn more at iml.umich.edu.)
Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering, University of Minnesota, 1988
M.S., Mechanical Engineering, University of Minnesota, 1986
M.S., Materials Engineering, University of Mississippi, 1982
B.S., Mechanical Engineering, Osmania University, 1980
In the News
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