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Chair Jayathi Murthy in her office, February 2012.

Chair Jayathi Murthy in her office, February 2012.

Dr. Jayathi Murthy has begun serving as the new Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. Murthy was formerly Robert V. Adams Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University. She is currently the Director of the PRISM Research Center there, and will continue to serve as director through April 2013.

The Early Years in India

Sketch of her father. Although not trained as an artist, Dr. Murthy enjoys drawing and painting, and sketches often. This is a page in her current notebook.

Sketch of her father. Although not trained as an artist, Dr. Murthy enjoys drawing and painting, and sketches often. This is a page in her current notebook.

Dr. Murthy was born in India and is the daughter of a civil engineer. As a young woman, engineering was not a common career choice for Indian women. Her mother was a strong proponent of women's rights and encouraged her to follow her interests. She decided to become a mechanical engineer because she was intrigued by the challenge the career choice presented, and her parents supported her fully. She was only one of two female engineering students in her technical institute out of a class of 200 students. The Women's Rights Movement, which had kicked into high gear in the United States, was still in its infancy in India. When young Jayathi entered one of the highly prestigious and competitive Indian Institutes of Technology, only five or six women had ever graduated from the institute. Though this presented a number of challenges, the environment at IIT Kanpur was stimulating and creative, and she thoroughly enjoyed her time there.

Graduate Schools and First Professorship

Upon graduation, she moved to the United States and received her MS from Washington State University in 1981 and her Ph.D. from The University of Minnesota in 1984. After receiving her Ph.D., she secured her first position was as an Assistant Professor at Arizona State University and was there from 1984-88. In 1988, she left academia and became one of the original engineers in a new startup company called Fluent Inc., where she worked for the next decade. Dr. Murthy considers this one of the most creative and fun experiences of her life – building a company from scratch and making it successful in a competitive marketplace is the ultimate test of the relevance of one's work.

Fluent Inc.

Anyone who studied mechanical engineering in this department during the last decade will be familiar with the Fluent software, which is now the standard in nearly every industry that deals with flow, heat and mass transfer. Fluent Inc. has since been acquired by ANSYS and is now marketed under the name ANSYS Fluent.

ANSYS Fluent is modeling software needed to model flow, turbulence, heat transfer and reactions for industrial applications such as air flow over an aircraft wing, combustion in a furnace, bubble columns to oil platforms, and to design wastewater treatment plants. It is currently used by thousands of companies worldwide in the design and development phase of their product development programs.

Carnegie Mellon and Purdue

In 1998, Dr. Murthy left Fluent, although she continued to consult with the company. She took an Associate Professor position with Carnegie Mellon University until 2001, when she was recruited by Purdue University and promoted to Full Professor. She held that position for 10 years before accepting the offer from The University of Texas at Austin to chair the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

PRISM

The focus of PRISM's research is the contacting capacitative radio-frequency MEMS switch as shown above.

The focus of PRISM's research is the contacting capacitative radio-frequency MEMS switch as shown above. Read more about PRISM's goals and a further explanation of this graphic.

In 2008, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) awarded Dr. Murthy a $21M center called PRISM: NNSA Center for Prediction of Reliability, Integrity and Survivability of Microsystems. Dr. Murthy will continue to serve as its director through April 2013. PRISM uses high performance computing to understand and improve the reliability and survivability of micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS). MEMS are extremely small devices, about a tenth of a millimeter in length, and are widely used today in consumer devices such as cell phones, laptops, cameras, car tire pressure sensors, among others. The Center focuses on radio frequency MEMS switches which are used in telecommunications and sensing. Approximately 20 faculty members, 40 graduate students and several undergraduates, as well as 5 research staff have been involved in this research work. She personally advises five graduate students who have transferred to The University of Texas at Austin, one who has recently joined her group at UT, and two others who remain at Purdue. She will be making bi-weekly trips back to Purdue to manage PRISM while she remains its director. In addition to her administrative duties here, advising her graduate students and doing research work for PRISM, she will also be teaching one class each year.

Engineering Education

When asked about the future for today's engineering students, Dr. Murthy noted, "One of the biggest challenges in teaching engineering today is knowing what to teach, what is important and what won't be important several years from now. Because technology is changing so fast, it is critical for us to identify what essential skills we want to impart to our students. Students must acquire a strong understanding of the basics because this gives them the ability to learn and to keep on learning – otherwise, it would be impossible to prepare an engineer for a 40-year career during which technology will change radically. Teaching methods are changing, too. The internet and the mobile computing revolution are changing our expectations about how education should be delivered. There are many exciting opportunities to radically improve engineering education over the coming years."

Women in Engineering

Dr. Murthy is the first female chair of this department, and has spent much of her career being the only female engineer in her work environment. She acknowledges that even though there are now more female engineers being trained, their numbers in the workforce are still low. Currently, about 20% of engineering students are female, but only 11% of the practicing engineers are women, despite decades of academic, federal, and employer interventions to address this gender gap. As chair, she will address issues for women and minority students both in engineering education and in the workforce. For more information on this subject, please download a 2011 study funded by NSF called Women Engineers: A National Study of Attrition and Persistence.

Hobbies and Outside Interests

When she's not working, she is drawn to the arts and enjoys time spent with her husband Sanjay Mathur, an aerospace engineer, who worked with her at Fluent. Mathur and his colleagues own an engineering simulation service company located in Austin, and he will be working as a research scientist in her research group part-time to help with PRISM. The two like music, travel and art. They have traveled all over the world, most recently to Africa to listen to the local musicians at small, local venues. They especially enjoyed a recent trip to Argentina. Jayathi likes to draw and paint and usually carries a notebook with her for on-the-spot sketching, which she feels helps her relax and concentrate. She reports that her new house in Austin has a lot of wall space for paintings that she's planning to produce. They love living in Austin, and Jayathi especially likes the strong identity of Texas and Texans and their sense of place.

Office Information

Dr Murthy will maintain only one office — the chair's office on the fifth floor, ETC 5.208. Please extend a warm Texas welcome to her and feel free to introduce yourself in the coming weeks. She welcome any visits or emails from students, faculty and staff. Alicia Snyder will continue to serve as Assistant to the Chair, and should be contacted to set up appointments.


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