About, McCormick School of Engineering, Northwestern University

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About Northwestern Engineering

What is Whole-Brain Engineering?

At Northwestern Engineering, we do more than educate great engineers. We empower our students to become whole-brain engineers. This means integrating the elements of left-brain thinking — analysis, logic, synthesis, and math — with the kind of right-brain thinking that fosters intuition, metaphorical thought, and creative problem solving. To lead effectively, you must master both.

Our whole-brain experience leverages connections throughout Northwestern University and neighboring institutions, bringing together undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. Augmenting the analytical core of engineering with design, entrepreneurship, leadership and personal development, and unusual collaborations, our students and faculty are prepared to take the world in a whole new direction.

The National Academy of Engineering recognized Dean Julio M. Ottino for the development of our school's whole-brain engineering philosophy with the 2017 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technical Education.

left brain analysis

Left Brain Analysis

Engineering requires the non-negotiable left-brain skills in mathematics, analysis, and rational thinking. Beginning in the first year and continuing through the graduate level, our students are immersed in rigorous courses in topics such as computer programming, physics, engineering mechanics, and differential equations.

Right Brain Analysis

Right Brain Creativity

Right-brain thinking embraces creativity, intuition, and metaphorical thought. It means looking at a problem through a new lens. Looking beyond the perceived problem to determine the actual problem. Using divergent thinking to create disruptive innovations. To innovate and lead, engineers must learn to be whole-brain.

Our whole-brain network

We put our whole-brain philosophy to work not only in the classroom, but in our research, in collaborative initiatives on and beyond campus, and as we push our work into the world-at-large as the leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

Choose a strategic area to learn more about how we support it:

Our Whole-Brain Network

Our Whole-Brain Network

Analysis

The systematic way of thinking needed to become an engineering leader of tomorrow

Math, logic, analysis, scientific reasoning, rational thinking — these skills are non-negotiable for engineers. The field of engineering has been built on the importance of empirical evidence and data. Analytical thinking allows engineers to create a data-based view of a product or system and use a logical skill set to innovate, design, and improve it.

At Northwestern Engineering, analysis drives our innovations and gives our faculty and students the systematic way of thinking needed to become the engineering leaders of tomorrow.

Education

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

We believe that between what's known and what hasn't been tried yet, there's untapped possibility. That's why we provide a powerful hands-on research experience for students to develop an advanced understanding of today's complex engineering and scientific challenges. Undergraduate research begins as early as the first year, with students collaborating alongside world-class faculty and graduate students. At any given time, you’ll find about 47% of engineering undergraduates actively engaged in on-campus research. Our faculty members are on the forefront of groundbreaking innovation, and our students are often part of teams that publish notable results.

Innovative Course: Engineering Analysis

Our innovative Engineering First curriculum introduces first-year students to the fundamentals of a rigorous engineering education alongside practical applications and experiences that emphasize the power of communication. The curriculum brings together two aspects of whole-brain engineering: Engineering Analysis and Design Thinking and Communication.

In Engineering Analysis, students engage with engineering concepts from the beginning of their first year, including linear algebra, engineering mechanics, physics, differential equations, and MATLAB programming. Each course integrates these topics with engineering applications, and MATLAB is used throughout the sequence to provide students with important tools to augment their professional development.

Engineers developed soft, flexible wireless sensors to replace the tangle of wire-based ones currently used to monitor babies in neonatal intensive care units, limiting parent-baby physical bonding.
No Wires, More Cuddles: Engineers developed soft, flexible wireless sensors to replace the tangle of wire-based ones currently used to monitor babies in neonatal intensive care units, limiting parent-baby physical bonding.
Synthetic biologists changed the shape and size of a common bacterial virus to better understand how these factors affect its ability to delivery drugs.
Reshaping the Virus:Synthetic biologists changed the shape and size of a common bacterial virus to better understand how these factors affect its ability to delivery drugs.
Historical bias is a key reason biomedical researchers continue to study the same 10 percent of all human genes whose sequences are known while ignoring many genes known to play roles in diseases.
Why Some Genes are More Popular than Others: Historical bias is a key reason biomedical researchers continue to study the same 10 percent of all human genes whose sequences are known while ignoring many genes known to play roles in diseases.
The first large-scale analysis of WhatsApp during Brazil’s 2018 election found that right-wing users were more effective in using the social media tool to spread news, disinformation, and opinions.
Analyzing Application’s Influence: The first large-scale analysis of WhatsApp during Brazil’s 2018 election found that right-wing users were more effective in using the social media tool to spread news, disinformation, and opinions.
Researchers have developed the new field of physical genomics, focused on reprogramming the genome's chromatin to treat disease and engineer living systems to overcome environmental challenges.
Reprogramming the Genome: Researchers have developed the new field of physical genomics, focused on reprogramming the genome's chromatin to treat disease and engineer living systems to overcome environmental challenges.

Research

Collaborative and cross-disciplinary

At Northwestern, analytical thinking is readily apparent in research labs that continually produce the innovations of tomorrow. We are making strategic investments in research areas that will drive progress in the coming years. Our award-winning faculty, including several members of national academies, work across disciplines to create new knowledge while maintaining a solid grounding in the fundamentals.

Design

The ability to see and solve the real problem behind the perceived problem

Design is an essential skill for whole-brain engineers. Our view of design is broad: it extends seamlessly from research and product design to systems design and design of services, and it includes such areas as health care systems, financial products, and architecture.

Watch to Dean Ottino introduce design and whole-brain thinking to incoming students

Design thinking is a key pillar of right-brain thinking for engineers at Northwestern. Design thinking is the ability to see and solve the real problem behind the perceived problem. We teach our engineers to study the problem, frame the correct problem, ideate and prototype solutions, then meaningfully communicate the story and idea behind the solution.

We focus on human-centered design, taking a unified approach to problem solving that draws from the domains of engineering, social science, and psychology. Our collaborative research program brings together leading faculty and graduate students from across the University to advance design research. Our programs extend from project courses and certificates to degrees and graduate programs that focus on integrating design in all forms of human endeavor.


Design InnovationNorthwestern’s Segal Design Institute teaches students to use design innovation skills to uncover richer insights that lead to more meaningful products, services, and systems.

Design innovation empowers leaders to develop meaningful solutions, create new value, and envision new possibilities. At the highest level, design unlocks creativity and the ability to imagine a new future.  
Julio M. Ottino, Dean, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science

Segal Design Institute

Segal Design Institute educates the next generation of design thinkers and leaders — people who are able to move across domains and industries, identify convergences, and create impact through the lens of human-centered design. It provides a variety of immersive, interdisciplinary programs for undergraduates, graduate students, and working professionals that teach collaboration and leadership in design thinking.

Education

Innovative Course: Design Thinking and Communication

Our innovative Engineering First™ curriculum introduces first-year students to the fundamentals of a rigorous engineering education alongside practical applications and experiences that emphasize the power of communication.

In Design Thinking and Communication (DTC), students work on solving problems brought to them by community clients while strengthening communication skills so others can better understand and use the results. This two-course sequence puts students to work immediately, training them to distinguish the real issue behind a perceived problem. And as they gain proficiency in communicating, DTC students master design thinking, developing the problem-solving and presentation skills necessary to thrive in a competitive marketplace. DTC is extended beyond Northwestern Engineering to students throughout the University through the Design Thinking and Doing course. Students from a wide range of disciplines learn the key methods of design innovation and work in teams to apply those methods, explore ideas, and prototype solutions.

Design Thinking at All Levels

At both the graduate and undergraduate level, students work on projects that produce tangible results and improve the lives of people around the world. Segal’s team-based approach to education encourages students to use design thinking to solve complex, authentic problems in product, interaction, service, and business design.

Research

Northwestern Engineering conducts research that advances our knowledge of design innovation and human-centered design by:

  • bringing together researchers, faculty, and students with diverse interests and backgrounds
  • providing resources from multiple schools at Northwestern University
  • driving toward greater understanding of specific concepts and topics in design

At the center of design research is the PhD Design Cluster. This multi-school cluster brings together dynamic faculty from the Segal Research Faculty Council and PhD students from a variety of disciplines.

Student Groups

Design for America

Design for America, founded at Northwestern, is a national network of campus studios where students work in interdisciplinary teams with local community partners to design solutions for social good. Teams work throughout the school year on projects that last anywhere between eight weeks to a year. Studios are supported by professional experts who provide mentorship, faculty members who connect students to university resources, and the DFA network which offers instruction and best practices. Students prepare for a future in the field of innovation, build lifelong friendships, and help change their communities for the better.

Entrepreneurship

Innovation brought to life

In this time of rapid change, we are interested in how enduring concepts and values intersect with new ideas, leading us to constant progress and innovation at all levels.

Learn more about our entrepreneurship vision

You can find entrepreneurship and innovation activities in nearly every corner of Northwestern, ranging from centers and institutes to student groups and administrative offices. Northwestern Engineering strives to maximize the benefits of entrepreneurship by offering resources and mentorship to motivated researchers and students, and by guiding and informing early interactions with potential licensors.

The creation of companies is a byproduct of what we do at Northwestern Engineering, not the central objective. However, when there is a desire to start a company that allows our innovators to move their own ideas into practice, we encourage it. We follow best practices that lead to more successful startup companies — companies founded by inventors and skilled lab members instead of non-inventors who seek to commercialize the technology of others solely for financial gain.

Student-founded Intelligent Flying Machines, Inc. develops intelligent, high-performance drones, allowing their users to remotely inspect indoor construction sites.
Soaring Startup:Student-founded Intelligent Flying Machines, Inc. develops intelligent, high-performance drones, allowing their users to remotely inspect indoor construction sites.
Through NUvention, clean energy tech startup SiNode Systems, now NanoGraf Corporation, developed a longer lasting, faster charging battery.
Powering Possibilities:Through NUvention, clean energy tech startup SiNode Systems, now NanoGraf Corporation, developed a longer lasting, faster charging battery.
SwipeSense offers a collaborative technology ecosystem to improve patient outcomes and reduce the cost of care by collecting useful data on hand hygiene, equipment inventory, and nursing assignments.
Healthy Hospitals: SwipeSense offers a collaborative technology ecosystem to improve patient outcomes and reduce the cost of care by collecting useful data on hand hygiene, equipment inventory, and nursing assignments.
In our NUvention courses, students work in interdisciplinary teams to learn the entire entrepreneurial life cycle by taking ideas and turning them into viable businesses.
Understanding Innovation:In our NUvention courses, students work in interdisciplinary teams to learn the entire entrepreneurial life cycle by taking ideas and turning them into viable businesses.

Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation facilitates the next generation of interdisciplinary learning at Northwestern by integrating many different disciplines and bringing together faculty from a number of schools to develop courses where students experience the entire innovation-business lifecycle — from ideation to prototyping and business plan development.

Education

Innovative Courses: NUvention

NUvention is our flagship suite of interdisciplinary courses. Within NUvention courses, students work together in teams to learn the entire innovation and entrepreneurial life cycle. Throughout the course, students design, plan, and launch businesses. It’s Northwestern’s most concerted effort to bring the world of startups to the classroom and brings together both undergraduate and graduate students in experiential entrepreneurship education.

  • NUvention: Analytics: Designed to create opportunities for students to create new analytics technologies and then build businesses around their innovations.
  • NUvention: Arts: Facilitates the creation, innovation, and organization of new ideas and companies in the field of the creative arts. The goal is to help students understand that success in the arts is a function of passion, work ethic, talent, and entrepreneurial drive.
  • NUvention: Energy: Responds to the demand for innovation and entrepreneurship in the sustainable energy and clean tech space, which will increasingly be required to deal with climate change, resource constraints, and other environmental challenges.
  • NUvention: Materials Science: Offers students the opportunity to develop commercial opportunities for technologies, innovations, and inventions focused on physical and chemical sciences and engineering.
  • NUvention: Medical: Creates opportunities for students to create new medical technologies and then build businesses around their innovations.
  • NUvention: Networked Body: Offers experientially intense mentorship on entrepreneurial scientific projects in the biomaterials space.
  • NUvention: Therapeutics: Focuses on how to leverage Lean Startup Principles in the therapeutics industry.
  • NUvention: Transportation: Designed to create opportunities for students to learn about and create businesses in the transportation space.
  • NUvention: Web + Media: Designed to expose students to the entire product and business development life cycle for a software company.

Leadership and Personal Development

If you want to be a leader, first be part of the team

Leadership is more than being the boss. It’s asking the right questions, working as part of the team, and creating a framework for success that inspires and mobilizes those around you.

At Northwestern Engineering, we provide students with the resources needed to prepare personally and professionally for the person they want to be, and we offer a unique assessment tool that helps students understand how their teamwork and leadership abilities can be improved.

The Center for Leadership provides tools and coaching to help determine a student’s leadership strengths and weaknesses and explore ways for growth.
Building Leaders:The Center for Leadership provides tools and coaching to help determine a student’s leadership strengths and weaknesses and explore ways for growth.
Through a suite of classes, activities, and seminars, our Office of Personal Development helps students become lifelong learners and take ownership of their personal growth.
Empowering Students:Through a suite of classes, activities, and seminars, our Office of Personal Development helps students become lifelong learners and take ownership of their personal growth.
Emotional Intelligence 101 helps students master their attention in order to manage stress and improve focus, self-awareness, and empathy for others.
Cultivating Mindfulness:Emotional Intelligence 101 helps students master their attention in order to manage stress and improve focus, self-awareness, and empathy for others.
Engineering Improv teaches skills such as focus and collaboration while encouraging students to explore available opportunities and engage in new experiences.
Allowing the Unexpected:Engineering Improv teaches skills such as focus and collaboration while encouraging students to explore available opportunities and engage in new experiences.

Center for Leadership

The Center for Leadership offers opportunities for all students to improve their skills through an environment that nurtures experimentation and innovation. Northwestern is one of only a few academic institutions that boasts a University-wide research center dedicated to the study of leadership and dissemination of the latest and best practices.

Office of Personal Development

Our Office of Personal Development empowers students to take ownership of their learning and personal growth. The office helps students develop the skills to be lifelong adaptive learners by fostering five core competencies:

  • Awareness: Leveraging intellectual curiosity and the confidence to question as you create your personal, professional, and civic identity
  • Optimization: Identifying tensions among competing resources and desired outcomes, and applying resources to accomplish goals
  • Fidelity: Loyalty to a consistent level of quality and integrity based on internal motivations, rather than external demands or rewards
  • Resilience: Persevering in the face of challenging situations
  • Self-Reliance: Confidently applying knowledge of yourself and your abilities in the service of your values and goals

Education

Innovative Tools: The Leadership Portal

The Center for Leadership's Portal offers students the opportunity to learn about their leadership and teamwork abilities through two innovative tools: the 360° Leadership Assessment and the Teamwork Assessment.

The 360° Assessment is an evaluation that collects insights from professors, classmates, and others to help determine a student’s leadership strengths and weaknesses. In a subsequent coaching session, participants meet with program leaders to discuss the findings and explore pathways for growth. Grounded in principles of “authentic leadership,” programs like these teach students to develop their individual leadership style based on their own talents, rather than emulate a maverick CEO who’s perceived as today’s great leader.

Built from best industry practices and our proprietary research, the Teamwork Assessment identifies typical teamwork problems at the individual and group levels and provides a process for solving them.

Innovative Course: Engineering Improv

Engineering Improv: The Art of Allowing introduces Northwestern Engineering teaches undergraduates to use improvisational techniques, including developing sensory awareness, attention and focus, collaboration, trust and support, storytelling skills, and commitment to character. The course helps undergraduate students develop accurate self-awareness by creating an environment that encourages them to explore available opportunities and engage in new experiences.

Innovative Course: Emotional Intelligence 101

Emotional Intelligence 101: Managing Yourself, Maximizing Your Potential gives Northwestern students the tools they need to master their attention. By doing so, they manage stress and improve focus, self-awareness, and empathy for others. Based on the Bar-On Model of Emotional Intelligence, the course is divided into five topics: stress management, self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal relationships, and decision-making.

Collaboration

Working with partners across disciplines to tackle complex problems from multiple angles

Learn more about our global vision

Ultimately, we believe that curating a whole-brain network augments our thinking and unlocks new capabilities. This systems-thinking approach gives us a framework to connect with partners across disciplines. Northwestern is built for these connections; the majority of our science departments are clustered within a set of interconnected buildings, and Northwestern Engineering actively pursues formal collaborations with nearly every school at the University, on the Evanston and Chicago campuses, and at our San Francisco space.

Our view of collaboration extends beyond our borders, with the Office of Global Initiatives supporting faculty and students in making deep connections with collaborators across the world.

In partnership with the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, Professor Brenna Argall combines robotics with rehabilitation, designing assistive machines for motor-impaired patients.
Rehabilitative Robotics:In partnership with the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, Professor Brenna Argall combines robotics with rehabilitation, designing assistive machines for motor-impaired patients.
Law and engineering students work with legal clients to apply technologies to challenges such as court data exploration and telemedicine compliance through the Innovation Lab course.
Law and Technology: Law and engineering students work with legal clients to apply technologies to challenges such as court data exploration and telemedicine compliance through the Innovation Lab course.
Through the Interdisciplinary Design Projects course, students partnered with the Shedd Aquarium on design challenges such as creating a caliper to help scientists measure queen conch shells.
Underwater Innovations: Through the Interdisciplinary Design Projects course, students partnered with the Shedd Aquarium on design challenges such as creating a caliper to help scientists measure queen conch shells.
The Center for Water Research collaborates with organizations around the world like The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund, as well as local partners like Argonne National Laboratory.
Water in Crisis:The Center for Water Research collaborates with organizations around the world like The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund, as well as local partners like Argonne National Laboratory.

Art

At Northwestern Engineering, we collide the fields of art and engineering to explore their commonality and differences, with the hopes of educating students with new ways of thinking. We facilitate opportunities for students to experience Engineering + Art through innovative courses and events, as well as partnerships with institutions like the Art Institute of Chicago and the Northwestern's Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art.

Humanities

Learn about our collaborative research networks

By its very nature, engineering is creative and directed to human uses, but oftentimes, creativity is an afterthought, or taught at the end of engineering studies. In the arts and humanities, creative and metaphorical thinking come into play early on in education. By bridging these two fields, we can educate students who appreciate different ways of thinking and grasp opportunities to contribute something distinctive. Our faculty are already bridging these gaps through research.

Law

At Northwestern, engineering and law work together to educate lawyers and engineers to advance innovation. Northwestern Engineering has a close partnership with the Pritzker School of Law, putting on joint events, offering collaborative classes, and encouraging interdisciplinary research.

Medicine

Northwestern Engineering has strong relationships with the highly ranked Feinberg School of Medicine, the innovative Northwestern Medicine, and the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, which is consistently named the top rehabilitation hospital in the country. Our researchers work to build autonomous wheelchairs, create implantable, stretchable medical devices, and build better models for distributing donated organs to save more lives.

Art

Colliding art and engineering to uncover to new ways of thinking

While the outcomes of art and science are fundamentally different, there are significant benefits to bringing more visual, more artistic thinking into science and engineering. The value in this intersection resides in enriching how the other side thinks. Both sides have a romantic view of the other. Scientists and engineers equate art with creation, beauty, and inspiration; artists equate science and engineering with cold methodical logic and rationality, and maybe, a singular moment of inspiration when a great discovery is made.

Dean's perspective: What art and engineering can learn from each other

But it is precisely in the similarities and opposites where interesting things happen. How can there be a constructive intersection between these spheres and their practitioners? There are at least two ways. One is the need to make things. This is most clear at the extremes of engineering and science. The other is creativity. At a high level of abstraction and production, the differences between artists, scientists, and engineers blur. They all rely on a singular need, craving or obsessiveness, and an ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake.

At Northwestern Engineering, we support Engineering + Art initiatives to help students expand their ways of thinking.

In partnership with the Block Museum of Art, the Artist-at-Large program facilitates conversations between engineers and artists on topics like the ethics of emerging science.
Exploring Ethics: In partnership with the Block Museum of Art, the Artist-at-Large program facilitates conversations between engineers and artists on topics like the ethics of emerging science.
Northwestern Engineering and School of the Art Institute of Chicago students collaborate to turn large data sets into compelling works of art that highlight the data’s hidden insights.
Data as Art Course: Northwestern Engineering and School of the Art Institute of Chicago students collaborate to turn large data sets into compelling works of art that highlight the data’s hidden insights.
Researchers discovered that protrusions bubbling up on Georgia O’Keeffe paintings are metal soaps, resulting from a chemical reaction between the metal ions and fatty acids used as binder in paints.
Art Acne: Researchers discovered that protrusions bubbling up on Georgia O’Keeffe paintings are metal soaps, resulting from a chemical reaction between the metal ions and fatty acids used as binder in paints.
The “Leonardo, Geometry, and the Art of Manufacturing” course focuses on design and manufacturing through the lens of geometry, a passion of Leonardo da Vinci, and culminates with an iron pour.
The Art of Manufacturing: The “Leonardo, Geometry, and the Art of Manufacturing” course focuses on design and manufacturing through the lens of geometry, a passion of Leonardo da Vinci, and culminates with an iron pour.
The Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts advances the sciences' role in art history, curatorial scholarship, archaeology, and conservation through objects-based and -inspired scientific research.
Bringing Science and Art Together: The Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts advances the sciences' role in art history, curatorial scholarship, archaeology, and conservation through objects-based and -inspired scientific research.

Partnerships

Block Museum of Art

Northwestern Engineering collaborates with the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art to:

  • Host speakers who discuss the intersection of art and engineering to the Northwestern community.
  • Stimulate interactions between engineers and humanists, allowing for conversations about ethics and responsibilities through the Artist-at-Large program with Dario Robleto.

Art Institute of Chicago

The Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts is a collaborative endeavor in conservation science that pursues objects-based and objects-inspired scientific research to advance the role of science within art history, curatorial scholarship, archaeology, and conservation.