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Research History

Researchers are key to the innovations of the future. They are the “what if” people who explore the boundaries of what is known to develop Research professors gather around tableproducts and processes that will answer some of the most challenging and important questions of society and impact the world. At Notre Dame, our dedicated engineering faculty and ever-growing research infrastructure support not only this quest for knowledge but also our distinctive Catholic character and commitment to making the world a better place in which to live.

Research initiatives in the College of Engineering build upon traditional strengths while also encouraging the development of new areas of interest, interdisciplinary partnerships, and student development. At Notre Dame, it is not unusual to see faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates working side by side in state-of-the-art facilities … often with industry partners. In this way, we continue ongoing research while laying the foundation and providing hands-on experiences for future engineering innovators.

Research has always been an influential part of the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. From the time Albert Zahm experimented with his manned gliders at the old Science Hall to the computer-aided analysis of supersonic aerodynamics in the wind tunnels of Hessert Center, research in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering has always been state-of-the-art.

AME Academic History

1969 Professors at the blackboardApril, 1926: "The Department of Mechanical Engineering offers instruction and practical training designed to equip men* with the fundamental principles and techniques necessary for success in any of the various divisions of mechanical engineering. These include drafting, machine design, railroad mechanics, refrigeration, manufacturing, testing, steam and gas engineering, etc. The program offered by the Department gives the student a thorough knowledge of pure and applied mathematics, physics, materials and principles of engineering, drafting and design, with the opportunity to specialize in any particular division of the field." -- Tuition and fees: $750. (*Undergraduate women were not admitted until 1972.)

The University of Notre Dame was founded in 1842, but engineering did not become a part of the curriculum until 1873. At that time, one faculty member served as Professor of Civil Engineering. In 1886, mechanical engineering emerged as a specialty to teach design and functions of steam engines, boilers, and condensers, but again, there was only one Professor of Mechanical Engineering. The first bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering was not awarded by the university until 1899. From about this time, master's degrees were occasionally awarded to students for exceptional work, but the master's in all engineering programs, including mechanical engineering, did not officially emerge until 1946. The Department of Aeronautical Engineering was established at Notre Dame in 1936, and was renamed the Department of Aerospace Engineering in 1964. The Mechanical and Aeronautical Departments merged in 1969 into the present Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department.

Like the academic program, the engineering facilities also underwent a great deal of change during the first century of engineering at Notre Dame. Originally, most classes and research activities were located in the Old Science Hall which currently stands on campus as LaFortune Student Center.

In 1893, many engineering classes were briefly relocated to the Institute of Technology, which was discontinued in the late 1890's. Engineering finally received its very own building in 1905 when construction of the small (40 ft. x 140 ft.) Engineering Hall was completed. That building served the department well until 1928, when it was struck by lightening and the second story was destroyed. Several facilities were relocated elsewhere on campus until 1931, when John F. Cushing, CE '06, donated money for the construction of Cushing Hall of Engineering. Every engineering department except the Department of Chemical Engineering moved into this beautiful neo-Gothic building which still serves the College of Engineering today. In the mid 1970's, space in Cushing became increasingly tight, and a drive for funding to construct a new building began. In 1979, Fitzpatrick Hall of Engineering was dedicated at its location immediately south of Cushing. (The two buildings are completely connected today.) Fitzpatrick is almost twice the size of Cushing, with two enormous floors built underground which house many of the engineering laboratories. The most recent addition to Notre Dame's engineering facilities is the Hessert Center for Aerospace Research, dedicated in 1991. It is a 38,000 square foot laboratory complex containing state-of-the-art equipment for aerospace research.


Albert F. ZahmOrtho PlaneZahm and CurtmannTunnel propellerProfessors Zahm and Curtmann

Notre Dame has had many distinguished faculty members in the engineering department from its very beginning. The first Professor of Mechanical Engineering was Albert F. Zahm, an aerodynamicist who had built one of the first ever wind tunnels while pursuing his M.S. at Cornell. He also organized the United States' first International Aeronautical Congress, held in Chicago during the 1893 World's Fair. At Notre Dame during the late 1880's and 1890's, he was most famous for his nighttime manned glider flights from atop university buildings. His tremendous influence on the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering is still apparent today.