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New Leadership Positions for Kevin Lynch and Luis Amaral

Professors named chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and co-director of the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems, respectively.

Kevin Lynch, professor of mechanical engineering, has been named chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Luis Amaral, professor of chemical and biological engineering, has been named co-director of the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems (NICO).

Lynch succeeds current chair L. Catherine Brinson and will assume the position September 1.

“Cate has done an excellent job leading this department for the last five years,” said Julio M. Ottino, dean of McCormick. “With its strengths in several areas of education and research, mechanical engineering is well-positioned for the future. I fully expect that Kevin will continue to guide the department to the next level.”

Lynch, who has served as co-director of NICO since 2010, will step down from that position, and Amaral will assume the role.

Kevin Lynch“Kevin provided great leadership for all complexity initiatives at the University,” Amaral said. “He achieved a strengthening of the governance structure of NICO and brought renewed attention of the complexity community at Northwestern onto decentralized control of distributed robotic systems. I look forward to follow in Kevin’s steps and promote the study of complex systems at the University.”

Lynch received his BSE in electrical engineering from Princeton University and his PhD in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University. He joined the faculty at Northwestern in 1997 and has been co-director of NICO since 2010. 

He is a co-author of the book “Principles of Robot Motion” (2005) and editor of the journal Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Transactions on Automation Science and Engineering. He has received the NSF CAREER Award, the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society's Early Academic Career Award, the Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award from the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International, and McCormick’s Teacher of the Year Award. He is a fellow of the IEEE.

Lynch, who has been a Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence, established the discipline of mechatronics design at Northwestern. He is the creator of "Introduction to Mechatronics (ME333)," a course on microprocessor-controlled electromechanical systems that attracts students from several departments in McCormick.

His research interests include robot manipulation and locomotion, self-organizing multi-agent systems, bio-inspired sensing and control, and functional electrical stimulation for restoration of human function. He is a member of the Neuroscience and Robotics Lab (NxR) and he frequently collaborates with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago on neural engineering and human-robot systems.

"This is an exciting time for the mechanical engineering department," Lynch said. "We are leading the way at Northwestern in curriculum innovation, including portable labs, flipped classrooms, research experiences, and online courses. In addition, our research funding is at an all-time high. As chair of the department, I look forward to working with our dynamic faculty to continue to grow our research program and international visibility while providing the very best education possible to our students." 

Luis AmaralAmaral is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist, and his research covers numerous areas within the field of complex systems. He is one of the most cited researchers at McCormick. He has studied problems as diverse as the extraction of medical information from physiologic signals, the growth dynamics of economic and social organizations, the statistics of the price fluctuations of financial assets, and the trophic organization of natural ecosystems.

Recently, Amaral proposed the development of cartographic methods for the representation of complex biological networks. These methods will enable researchers to accomplish something similar to what travelers now can easily accomplish with Google Maps: gleaning the important information on a given system at the scale of interest to the researcher. These tools hold the promise to enable biomedical researcher to design or re-engineer biological systems for therapeutic purposes.

Amaral was named by the W.M. Keck Foundation to its class of Distinguished Young Scholars in Medical Research in 2006. Before joining Northwestern in 2002, he was a visiting scholar and then a research associate at Boston University and Harvard Medical School.

The Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems (NICO) serves as a hub and facilitator for path-breaking research in complexity science that transcends the boundaries of established disciplines. NICO is at the forefront of research on complex interacting and networked systems, including social networks, neural regulatory systems, intercellular connections, human mobility networks, and disease transmission mechanisms. The study of these systems crosses traditional departmental and school boundaries, and one of NICO's primary missions is to promote such collaborations. Nearly three dozen faculty members from across the University participate.