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Engineering News Fall 2014

On Shun Pak Joins Department of Mechanical Engineering

Talking fluid mechanics with mechanical engineering's newest faculty member, On Shun Pak, makes you recall the feelings you had when you first played with water as a kid, splashing in a pool. His passion for fluid mechanics is joyful and infectious.

Pak is fascinated by phenomena in fluids. "I'm particularly interested in the swimming of microorganisms—bacteria, or sperm, for example—and learning the physics that govern their motion. The way microorganisms swim in their environment is very different from the way we humans swim in water. If you put yourself in the microscopic world, you would have a hard time moving with your usual swimming strategies. It's remarkable that natural microorganisms can swim effectively in such environments to perform different biological tasks. If we can understand how nature designed these small-scale swimmers, we can use that information to design our own microswimmers—tiny robots to do amazing things like delivering drugs to targeted locations in our bodies."

Engaging students and helping them find their own fascination for the field is another passion of Pak's. "Fluid mechanics is such a funny subject; students can play with fluid all day long, and then they start to think about the phenomena and why fluid behaves the way it does. Soon they are contemplating the useful ways these behaviors can be put to use. It's fun to study the physics of fluids and learn about their engineering applications."

Equally passionate about teaching and research, he feels at home with Santa Clara's model of the teacher-scholar. "Teaching is an art, and I am interested in the process: organizing the material, finding the best way to explain a difficult concept, and helping students get past a mental block. I am also recruiting graduate students to join my research, either on fundamental problems in fluid mechanics or on applications for biological systems. It depends on the students; we can tailor research to what they are fascinated by.

"Another reason I was drawn to Santa Clara is the mission component," he continued. "It inspires me to see how I can contribute to a more humane world as a teacher and scholar and hopefully inspire students to use their knowledge to change the world. That's the mission I have given myself."

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