The Center for Ocean Engineering seeks to use research and education to better understand, protect, and utilize the oceans, which cover more than 70% of the earth’s surface. This is a challenging task that involves:
- Operating in a demanding environment with an often-stressful surface, extreme pressures at depth, and limited ability to sustain high data-rate communications and imaging
- Understanding ocean dynamics and processes where observations are under-sampled both temporally and spatially
- Recognizing the impact and influence of the United States Navy and global commercial interests in their need to traverse the oceans safely and efficiently
Ocean Engineering and Technology, which merged with MechE in 2006, is focused on four research areas: acoustics, hydrodynamics, structures and structural dynamics, and design and marine robotics. Expanding those categories – and mindful of the fact that ocean processes and marine systems are almost universally complex and therefore require interdisciplinary efforts – the ocean engineering program at MIT, like an octopus, has eight research “tentacles”:
- Exploring the ocean environment – We know more about the back side of the moon than about the lowest depths of the oceans. Exploring the ocean environment requires the development of networks of unmanned underwater vehicles and of specialized sensors for gathering data on ocean chemistry and biology.
- Ocean acoustics and sonar systems – Acoustical methods are the primary means for sensing the oceans, as well as for antisubmarine and mine detection for national defense. Sonar technology enables long-distance observations in the ocean and requires deep knowledge of both acoustics and signal processing.
- Hydrodynamics and free-surface waves – Ships must be able to run in both calm seas and hurricane-force conditions. Since marine transportation supports 95% of the world’s commerce, it is critical to understand the impact of free-surface gravity waves. Several of our faculty have participated in America’s Cup races.
- Energy – The advent of fast, high-voltage, high-power semiconductor switching devices is revolutionizing the commercial marine industry, while all-electric architectures hold many advantages for military ships, which have more demanding requirements.
- Naval architecture and ship design – Every major class of ships launched by the US Navy has had an MIT graduate directing it. Because of current defense needs and funding constraints, we must think in terms of interchanging platform payloads, configurability by mission, costs savings, and other factors.
- Offshore platforms for oil and gas production – The direction of the offshore oil and gas industry is “deeper.” Current system designs are for two-kilometer water depths, while research is now being done for depths of 3,300 km. The two companies that have 90% of the market share in floating production system design were founded by MIT ocean engineering alumni.
- Autonomous vehicles – MIT has a history of leadership in developing unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). Current research focuses on the technology required to create, launch, and control integrated, dynamically configurable networks of UUVs, enabling them to be used collectively in dangerous mission areas.
- Ship and platform safety and crashworthiness – Between natural disasters such as hurricanes and tsunamis, and man-made threats from terrorists, pirates, and enemy nations, it is critical – and challenging – to be able to design ships and platforms to withstand extraordinary forces and damage.