Penn State mechanical engineering breaks ground on innovative undergrad lab


By Erin Cassidy Hendrick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — To fully reimagine its undergraduate lab experience, the Penn State College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME) broke ground on a 5,700-square-foot space in the basement of the Reber Building.

Once completed, the ME Knowledge Lab will serve as the learning and innovation hub for several required undergraduate courses at Penn State University Park, providing students with cutting-edge and impactful tools to prepare them for a dynamic career in the field.

“We expect our graduates to help solve today’s complex engineering challenges. That starts here, in their undergraduate education, by providing the best experience and technology,” said Karen Thole, distinguished professor and ME department head.

Once completed, the ME Knowledge Lab facilities will include:

  • Collaborative design hub
  • 3D printers and a light makerspace
  • Lab stations including characterization devices for wind turbines, gas turbines, battery cells and materials
  • Virtual reality learning site 
  • Autonomous vehicles lab

Thole explained, in synergy with the construction, a new curriculum has been designed to ensure the undergraduate ME education includes modern topics, while emphasizing problem solving skills for complex systems to prepare students for their future career paths.

To support that goal, a new undergraduate lab course has been introduced to focus on real-world problems and provide opportunities for students to concentrate on topics that center around sustainability, big data, bioengineering, autonomy and robotics, advanced manufacturing and energy.

Construction began in the summer of 2020. After a planned pilot program in the fall of 2021, the department will officially begin utilizing the space in spring 2021 for the new course.

“By knowing there will be modernized equipment, lab space and new course content with a strong emphasis on 21st-century workforce skills waiting for our students, we hope they will be excited and look forward to the new ME Knowledge Lab,” said Siu Ling “Pansy” Leung, director of ME undergraduate laboratories.

More information on the project can be found on the ME website.


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Megan Lakatos

“We expect our graduates to help solve engineering challenges every day. That starts here, in their undergraduate education, by providing the best experience and technology.”
—Karen Thole, distinguished professor and department head of mechanical engineering