3° with Michael Jensen

by Michael Mullaney on March 27, 2013

Michael Jensen is a professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering at Rensselaer. We ask him about his work:

Q: What problems are you trying to solve?

A: My research revolves around heat transfer, whether in large-scale heat exchangers, such as what might be found in a chemical process plant, or at the microscale, such as with electronics cooling in high performance computers. The goal is to try to understand what the governing processes are, and then to develop methods to predict the processes; this is essential for design, as well as for troubleshooting.

What is your favorite course to teach?

I most enjoy teaching undergraduate thermal and fluids courses. On nearly every topic I can relate the material to something in the students’ lives; either they have used it, seen it, or heard about it, so it is fun to ask them if they’ve thought about it. Tying the theory to a practical application they’re familiar with makes it more real to the students; it’s not just an abstract concept.

When you were an undergraduate student, what was your favorite course?

I confess that as an undergraduate, I didn’t really have a favorite course. Many courses interested me, but when I graduated I said I would never go back to school; I just wanted out.  However, in my first job in industry at an oil refinery, I did a variety of assignments with heat transfer, and that piqued my interest and enthusiasm. After two years of unchallenging work, I decided to go back to school, just until I figured out what to do when I grew up. I’ve been challenged, and since I’ve never left the university, I guess that means …

What is your favorite place to travel?

If the travel is focused on outdoor activities, I love going to the mountains, as high and as remote as I can get. If the focus is on cities, I want to go where there is much history, not only in the museums, but also with the architecture, environment, and people. If I hadn’t become an engineer, there is a good chance I would have become an historian.

What drives your passion for mountain climbing?

Being out in the natural beauty. It’s great to be up high, so I can see forever. It’s also the physical challenge, to go where few others go. To be in the wilderness with, perhaps, no one else other than your own group around for hundreds of square miles is a neat feeling. You can only rely on what you carried in on your back, and you get away from all issues associated with modern life. It can be tough, but it is also quite satisfying and relaxing.

Much of your work centers on energy efficiency and sustainability, and you are the faculty adviser of the Engineers for a Sustainable World student group. Why is this topic important to you?

We are fortunate in this country to have had many resources—both natural and human—available to advance our country, but resources are finite, and other countries do not have the abundance that we have. Engineers always seek to improve efficiencies, use less material, etc. However, we can do a better job if we educate the new generations of engineers to not only consider function, cost, aesthetics, and safety when designing a device, but to also consider sustainability issues. We use the same tools, but we bring in more understanding of where other savings can be realized. While there are many definitions of sustainability, the one from the Great Law of the Iroquois (established between 11th and 16th centuries) is nice; I use it in class. It says that leaders have a duty to “have always in view not only the present, but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground—the unborn of the future Nation … In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation … even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”

To read more about Michael and his work, click here.

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