Two TTU engineering faculty honored for contributions

Pioneering research in robotics and substantive contributions in teaching, research and service have resulted in significant honors for two faculty members in the College of Engineering at Tennessee Technological University.

Sastry Munukutla, a professor of mechanical engineering with Tennessee Tech's Center for Electric Power, has been named this year's recipient of the college's Brown-Henderson Outstanding Faculty Award, named in honor of Engineering Dean Emeritus James Seay Brown and in memory of James Henderson, the college's first dean.

Ahmad Smaili, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is the 1996 recipient of the Kinslow Research Award, which recognizes the research paper judged most scholarly, insightful and significant in contributing to the advancement of engineering knowledge. Both were recognized during the college's annual Engineers Week Banquet.

Outstanding college professors teach, conduct research and engage in professional service activities, and the philosophy behind those three responsibilities is that each enhances the others to the benefit of students, the academic community and society as a whole. To the faculty and students who nominated him for the award, Munukutla represents that ideal: a faculty member who has contributed much as a teacher, researcher and professional.

Highly regarded by students, Munukutla has excelled in teaching both undergraduate and graduate courses, consistently receiving excellent evaluations. Students turn to him as a mentor and friend, and he has directly influenced the work of 19 master's and four Ph.D. students, whom he supervised.

In research, Munukutla has been responsible for an array of projects and programs that total more than a million dollars in external funding. These efforts have engaged colleagues and external funding partners in collaborative, multidisciplinary work, and many have involved both undergraduate and graduate students. A testament to the academic merit of these efforts is that many have resulted in publications in refereed journals and conference proceedings. Equally significant, the work was conducted in tandem with a number of utility companies and related associations ranging across the midwestern and eastern United States -- organizations the Center for Electric Power was created to assist.

In the area of service, Munukutla has made substantial contributions to the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, which elected him as an associate fellow and presented him with a Booster Award.

The publication that won Smaili the Kinslow Research Award introduces the idea of a new class of linkage arms that Smaili calls robomechs. A robomech combines elements of a robot and a mechanism, but it differs from both by having more than one end effector, a device able to act on electronic impulses in a manner similar to the way the muscles of our hands respond to neural signals. Each end effector can carry a different tool, enabling the robomech to perform coordinated multifunction tasks that neither a single mechanism nor a single robot can do. This new concept provides a new class of mechanical arms that can do more with less when used in a wide range of applications such as assembly, packaging, material handling and other manufacturing processes.

In his paper, Smaili introduces features of robomechs, identifies geometric constraints and synthesis procedures, and provides an example of an application. His paper appeared in the refereed publication Journal of Mechanism and Machine Theory in February 1995.

Such groundbreaking research carries on the tradition of Ray Kinslow, whom the award honors. Kinslow taught at Tennessee Tech for 32 years, serving as head of Engineering Science and Mechanics for 25 years. In addition to excelling in education and administration, he was a prolific researcher, particularly in the area of hypervelocity impact. Smaili's Kinslow Award-winning paper will be submitted as Tennessee Tech's nominee for the Outstanding Contributions in Research Award presented by the 1996 Southeastern Section of the American Society for Engineering Education.