Mechanical Engineering

Professor Joost Vlassak, Director of Undergraduate Studies

Mechanical engineering is a discipline of engineering that uses the principles of physics and materials science for the analysis and design of mechanical and thermal systems. Mechanical engineering is critical to the success of many human enterprises - it plays a central role in the generation and distribution of energy, transportation, manufacturing, and infrastructure development. Nearly every product or service in modern life has been touched in some way by a mechanical engineer.

The concentration in Mechanical Engineering is structured for a diversity of educational and professional objectives. For students who are planning to work as practicing engineers or who may be preparing for careers in business, education, government, or law—and for those whose career objectives may be less specific—the concentration provides an ideal framework for a well-rounded technical and scientific education.

The technologies that engineers create are changing at an amazing rate, but the fundamental tools of engineering change more slowly. The Harvard Mechanical Engineering curriculum emphasizes a solid background in the applied sciences and mathematical analysis and provides ample opportunity to learn about state-of-the-art technologies. Students also gain experience in the engineering design process, the unique engineering activity that requires creative synthesis as well as analysis to fulfill specified needs.

The objectives of the Mechanical Engineering program are to provide students a solid foundation in mechanical engineering within the setting of a liberal arts college for preparation for a diverse range of careers in industry and government or for advanced work in engineering, business, law, or medicine. It enables the acquisition of a broad range of skills and attitudes drawn from the humanities, social sciences, and sciences in addition to engineering, which enhances engineering knowledge and contributes to future leadership and technical success.

The SB degree program requires a minimum of twenty courses (80 credits). The curriculum is structured with advanced courses building on the knowledge acquired in math, science, and introductory engineering science courses. Concentrators are encouraged to complete the common prerequisite course sequence in their first two years at Harvard. This includes Math (through 1a and 1b; plus 21a and 21b, 23a and 23b, or Applied Mathematics 21a and 21b), Physics (through Physical Sciences 12a and 12b, Physics 15a and 15b, or Applied Physics 50a and 50b), and Computer Science 50. Students are cautioned that it is more important to derive a solid understanding of these basic subjects than to complete them quickly without thorough knowledge; this material is extensively used in many subsequent courses. If in doubt, it may be wise to enroll in the Math 1 sequence rather than proceed to Math 21a or 23a with marginal preparation.

The SB programs in Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Sciences share many course requirements, and there is some flexibility in moving between these programs. To get an early sample of engineering coursework, entering students are invited to enroll in Engineering Sciences 6 (Environmental Science and Engineering), Engineering Sciences 50 (Electrical Engineering), Engineering Sciences 51 (Mechanical Engineering), and Engineering Sciences 53 (Biomedical Engineering). These introductory courses have minimal prerequisites and have been very popular with prospective engineering concentrators. Engineering Sciences 50 and 51 have extensive hands-on laboratory sections.

Upon graduation, students in the Mechanical Engineering concentration should demonstrate the following student outcomes:

  • (a) An ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science and engineering.
  • (b) An ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data.
  • (c) An ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health and safety, manufacturability, and sustainability.
  • (d) An ability to function on multidisciplinary teams.
  • (e) An ability to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems.
  • (f) An understanding of professional and ethical responsibility.
  • (g) An ability to communicate effectively.
  • (h) The broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context.
  • (i) A recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in life-long learning.
  • (j) A knowledge of contemporary issues.
  • (k) An ability to use the techniques, skills and modern tools necessary for engineering practice.

20 courses (80 credits)

1) Required courses:

a) Mathematics/Probability and Statistics/Applied Mathematics (four courses):

1. Mathematics 1a and b; and Applied Mathematics 21a and 21b, Mathematics 21a and 21b, or Mathematics 23a and 23b. (Note: Students who start in Mathematics 1a will not be required to satisfy either the probability and statistics requirement or the applied math requirement. Students who start in Mathematics 1b must take a course that satisfies the probability and statistics requirement. Students who start in Mathematics 21a, Applied Mathematics 21a, or Applied Mathematics 23a must complete the courses in both probability and statistics and applied math.)

2. Probability and Statistics (one course): At least one of Applied Mathematics 101, Engineering Sciences 150, or Statistics 110 (if starting in Mathematics 1b, 21a or 23a, or Applied Mathematics 21a).

3. Applied Mathematics (one course): At least one of Applied Mathematics 104, 105, 106, 107, 108 (formerly Applied Mathematics 147), or 120 (if starting in Mathematics 21a or 23a or Applied Mathematics 21a).

b) Physics (two courses): Applied Physics 50a, Physical Sciences 12a, or Physics 15a or 16; and Applied Physics 50b, Physical Sciences 12b, or Physics 15b. Appropriate advanced-level physics courses may also fulfill this requirement (please consult with SEAS advisers).

c) Chemistry (two courses): Life Sciences 1a or Life and Physical Sciences A, Physical Sciences 1 or 11, or Physical Sciences 10.

d) Computer Science (one course): Computer Science 50, 51, or 61.

e) Electronics (one course): One from Engineering Sciences 52, 153, 154, Computer Science 141.

f) Engineering Design (two courses): Engineering Sciences 96 or 227, and Engineering Sciences 100hf (see item 3 below). Engineering Sciences 96 or 227 must in taken in junior year, prior to ES 100hf.

g) Required (seven courses): Engineering Sciences 51, 120, 123, 125 or 158, 181, 183, and 190.

h) Engineering Elective (one course):

      • Engineering Sciences 50, 52, 53, 111, 115, 121, 128, 151, 153, 156, 162, 173, 175, 177
      • Applied Physics 195
      • Computer Science 51, 61, 141
      • By prior approval, advanced-level engineering science courses relevant to mechanics and materials engineering and advanced-level MIT courses in mechanical or materials engineering.

i) Note: Students entering Harvard with secondary school preparation that places them beyond the level of any of the required courses listed above may substitute appropriate advanced-level courses. However, all SB programs must include a minimum of twenty approved courses and meet the overall ABET guideline of 8 courses in math and science and 12 courses in engineering topics. Given the number and complexity of the requirements, students interested in pursuing engineering should consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies about their plans of study as early as possible.

2) Sophomore Forum: Sophomore year. Non-credit. Spring term.

3) Tutorial: Required. Engineering Sciences 100hf.

4) Thesis: Required: An individual engineering design project is an essential element of every SB program and is undertaken, ordinarily, during the senior year as part of Engineering Sciences 100hf. Faculty supervised reading and research is an important aspect of this requirement.

5) General Examination: None.

6) Other Information:

a) Engineering Sciences 6, 50, and 53: Engineering Sciences 6, 50, and 53 can only count as an engineering elective when taken during the freshman or sophomore years.

b) Pass/Fail and Sat/Unsat: None of the courses used to satisfy the concentration requirements may be taken Pass/Fail or Sat/Unsat.

c) Plan of Study: Concentrators are required to file an approved departmental Plan of Study during their third term (i.e., the first term of their sophomore year) and to keep their plan up to date in subsequent years. All SB programs must meet the overall ABET program guidelines, a minimum of four courses in basic sciences, four courses in mathematics and twelve courses in engineering topics. Plan of Study forms may be obtained from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ Office of Academic Programs, Pierce Hall 110, and from the SEAS website.

d) Additional Terms: Concentrators who wish to remain beyond the end of the second term of their senior year to complete the SB requirements must be approved to do so by the Undergraduate Engineering Committee. A written petition is required and should always be submitted as early as possible and under discussion with the Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies or Director of Undergraduate Studies. Petitions can be submitted no later than January 15 between the student’s fifth and sixth terms (i.e., middle of junior year), or August 15 between the student’s fifth and sixth terms if the student’s fifth term is the spring. Under no circumstances will the Committee grant a student permission for more than two additional terms. Petitions are only granted in exceptional cases, and only to meet specific SB degree requirements. More information can be found on the SEAS website.

e) Joint Concentrations: Mechanical Engineering does not participate in joint concentrations.


Students interested in concentrating in Mechanical Engineering should discuss their plans with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, the Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies, or the Undergraduate Academic Programs Administrator. Each undergraduate who elects to concentrate in Mechanical Engineering is assigned a faculty adviser depending on his or her area of specialization. The faculty adviser might also be a member of the Undergraduate Engineering Committee, whose members have the responsibility for reviewing departmental Plans of Study. If students do not request a change in adviser, they have the same adviser until they graduate. Each student is reassigned to another faculty member while his or her original faculty adviser is on leave. It is expected that students will discuss their Plans of Study and progress with their Director of Undergraduate Studies or Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies at the beginning of each term. Students may seek advice from their faculty adviser, the Director of Undergraduate Studies, the Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies, or the Academic Programs Administrator at any time.


Further information is available from the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Joost Vlassak,, (617) 496-0424; the Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Christopher Lombardo,, (617) 496-5185; or the Undergraduate Academic Programs Administrator, Kathy Lovell,, (617) 496-1524.

Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Mechanical Engineering 18 47 56 53 64
Mechanical Engineering + another field 0 0 0 0 0
Another field + Mechanical Engineering 0 0 0 0 0





Mechanical Engineering was a new concentration for 2012-13.