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25+ Research Ideas in Mechanical Engineering for High School Students

Mechanical engineering is a multifaceted discipline that combines physics, mathematics, and material science to design, analyze, and manufacture mechanical systems. If you’re a high schooler with an analytical mindset and a passion for problem-solving, this is one of those STEM fields that you may already be interested in. Now while you could of course get into the nitty-gritties of mechanical systems or building your own projects, you could also consider pursuing research in mechanical engineering! Not only is research materially and financially easier, but it is also at least as intellectually challenging if not more so, and is a great way to build your mastery of mechanical theory and its applications.


In this blog, we present 25+ research ideas across the various disciplines within mechanical engineering that you could consider exploring.


How should you go about pursuing research in engineering as a high schooler?


Remember, research is supposed to be a systematic inquiry into a chosen topic, so the first and most important item on the checklist is to select a relevant and manageable topic.


Ideally, your research should address a current challenge or gap in the engineering field, aiming for innovation while having the necessary resources and tools available. While this may sound challenging, you can still choose to, instead pursue existing research avenues to enhance your own knowledge and contribute your observations and deductions to the larger engineering community.


After you have identified a promising research area, plan your methodology, consider ethical implications, and decide how to present your findings.


Topic 1: Robotics and Automation

Robotics is one of the most exciting products of the information age and is at the forefront of technological advancements, transforming industries from healthcare to manufacturing. It encompasses machine design, control, and human-machine interaction, all inextricably linked with the concepts of mechanics and motion and how best to control them.


Good to have before you start:


  • Familiarity with programming and working knowledge of at least one common programming language (C / C++ / Python).

  • An understanding of kinematics and the principles of motion.


Some potential topics:

1. Collaborative Robots: Explore the design and safety aspects of robots designed to work alongside humans.

2. Drone Technology: Research the mechanics, applications, and fallout of unmanned aerial vehicles and how to improve their design and usage.


3. Automation in Manufacturing: Study the impact and efficiency of robotics in modern manufacturing processes, and the evolution of their design.


4. AI-driven Robotics: Delve into robots powered by artificial intelligence and their applications. This one is a little tricky and advanced but is an excellent learning opportunity if you are able to grasp the intricacies of AI and machine learning. If you find a mentor for this, all the better!


Ideas contributed by Lumiere Mentors from the University of Michigan, Brown University, and University College London.


Topic 2: Thermal and Fluid Systems

This research area focuses on the behavior of fluids and the transfer of heat, two interlinked domains relying on convection and the motion of atoms. These are important concepts for applications ranging from HVAC systems to vehicle aerodynamics.


Good to have before you start:


  • A grasp of thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, and heat transfer principles.

  • Access to a lab would be helpful for you to experiment and test the concepts involved.


Some potential topics:


5. Efficient Cooling Mechanisms: Research innovative methods to cool machinery and electronics, either via revolutionary design or by clever use of material properties.


6. Fluid Flow Simulations: Explore computational methods to predict fluid behavior. This is a fairly beginner-friendly topic with plenty of learning opportunities and low barriers to entry.


7. Renewable Energy and Thermodynamics: Investigate the role of heat transfer in sustainable energy solutions, and its efficiency, design, and limits. Renewable energy is one of the most important topics of our time, and there’s plenty of work yet to be done in this field.


8. Microfluidics in Medical Devices: Delve into the applications of fluid behavior at the microscale in healthcare.


Ideas contributed by Lumiere Mentors from the University of Cambridge, Stanford University, and MIT.

Topic 3: Materials and Manufacturing

The essence of this topic lies in understanding and researching the properties of different materials and how their hardness, strength, elasticity, etc. can be manipulated in manufacturing processes to create better products.


Good to have before you start:


  • Some knowledge of, or interest in, material sciences and manufacturing processes

  • Convenient access to a materials laboratory - a lot of the subjects in this field require experimentation and practical observation.

  • Experience with tool-working or a mentor to supervise.

  • Safety gear! You will likely be doing a lot of materials analysis and abrasion and corrosion testing, all of which require safety gear.


Some potential topics:


9. 3D Printing Innovations: Explore advancements in additive manufacturing and their implications, researching what makes a good material for 3D printing and the details of the process.


10. Smart Materials in Everyday Products: Research materials that respond to external stimuli and their commercial applications. This is crucial research for the design and manufacturing of such vital things as semiconductors and transistors.


11. Sustainable Manufacturing: Place yourself at the leading edge of sustainability research and investigate eco-friendly production methods and materials.


12. Nanomaterials and Their Properties: Delve into the world of materials at the nanoscale and their unique characteristics. While similar in approach and application to #10, this focuses instead on material properties at the quantum levels and how that impacts their usage in manufacturing.


Ideas contributed by Lumiere Mentors from Cornell University and the University of Cambridge.


Topic 4: Biomechanics

Biomechanics merges biology and mechanics, aiming to understand the mechanical aspects of living organisms, from human movement to cellular behavior. This is an interesting intersection of fields hosting cutting-edge research on the potential of the human body and ways to repair or even enhance it.


Good to have before you start:


  • Some knowledge of, or interest in, both biology and the principles of mechanics.

  • Some mentorship - this is a somewhat advanced topic that requires an understanding of advanced concepts from two distinct fields. A mentor will be able to guide you and point you to important resources.


Some potential topics:


13. Prosthetic Design and Biomechanics: Research the mechanics behind prosthetic devices, user-friendly designs, and materials that combine flexibility, lightness, and strength.


14. Sports Biomechanics: Investigate the mechanics of various sports movements and their optimization. As Olympic sports performance levels climb ever higher, this is a future-oriented field of research if you’re keen on exploring the limits of the human body.


15. Cellular Mechanics and Health: Explore how cells respond to mechanical forces and the implications for health.


16. Wearable Devices for Movement Analysis: Study the technology behind wearables that monitor and analyze human movement, exploring efficient alternative materials and design.


Ideas contributed by Lumiere Mentors from John Hopkins University, UC Berkeley, and Harvard.


Topic 5: Automotive Engineering

This topic delves into the design, manufacturing, and operation of vehicles, from cars to trucks, focusing on performance, safety, and efficiency. From Tesla to Toyota, and Mack to Caterpillar, the field of automotives has never been as buzzing and active as it is today.


Good to have before you start:


  • Some knowledge of, or interest in, vehicle dynamics and systems.

  • Convenient access to both a mechanical laboratory and a vehicle - this is a highly practical field that requires plenty of experimentation and hands-on work.

  • Mentorship - once more, practical guidance will go a long way with these topics, and drastically reduce the likelihood of you ending up with a broken-down vehicle!

  • A driving license - you might need to test out some vehicular modifications, in which case a license becomes mandatory.


Some potential topics:


17. Electric Vehicle Innovations: Research the latest advancements in EV technology and design. This also involves some aspects of material sciences and electronics engineering.


18. Aerodynamics of High-Speed Vehicles: Explore how vehicle design influences performance at high speeds. If you’re an F1 enthusiast, this will be right up your alley.


19. Safety Mechanisms in Modern Cars: Investigate the technology behind safety features like autonomous braking and lane-keeping assist.


20. Future of Autonomous Vehicles: Delve into the mechanics and challenges of self-driving cars. Being a purely theoretical topic for most people, this makes it the most beginner-friendly topic in this section while being good for developing your knowledge of the field.



Topic 6: Renewable Energy Systems

With the global push towards sustainability, this area focuses on more efficient methods of harnessing energy from renewable sources like wind, sun, and water. With the escalating environmental crises, this field is crucial in steering the world towards a sustainable future. While this subject can potentially overlap with, say, chemical, material, or electronics engineering, the focus here is on researching, understanding, and exploring the mechanics of existing renewable energy systems and ways of improving them or even designing entirely new ones.


Good to have before you start:


  • Understanding of energy conversion principles, interest in sustainable technologies, and some experience with electrical systems.

  • Access to some renewable energy systems - while many of these projects can be explored purely from a theoretical lens, it would benefit you greatly if you have access to an actual solar panel farm or a wind turbine.


Some potential topics:


21. Solar Energy Harvesting: Explore the mechanics and efficiency of solar panels and energy storage.


22. Wind Turbine Design and Optimization: Research the aerodynamics and mechanics of wind turbines.


23. Hydroelectric Power Innovations: Investigate advancements in harnessing energy from water sources.


24. Thermal Energy Storage Solutions: Study methods, materials, and designs to efficiently store heat energy for later use.


Ideas contributed by a Lumiere Mentor from Harvard, the University of Exeter, and Imperial College London.


Topic 7: Dynamics and Control Systems

This field studies the motion of objects and the forces acting on them, alongside designing systems to control these dynamics. This has some overlap with both automation and automotive fields, but here the focus is on the forces affecting the dynamics of and control of mechanical systems, and how to mitigate and optimize that feedback.


Good to have before you start:


  • A foundation in physics, understanding of mathematical modeling, and familiarity with basic control theory.

  • Convenient access to a systems laboratory - you will benefit greatly if you’re able to physically work on the listed topics.

  • Some mentorship - again, the topics in this field require physical experimentation and hands-on analysis, while also often being theoretically dense. Your learning will be greatly enhanced if you find a mentor.


Some potential topics:


25. Vibration Analysis in Machinery: Delve into the causes and mitigation of vibrations in industrial equipment.


26. Stability Analysis of Mechanical Systems: Research factors influencing the stability of structures and machinery.


27. Feedback Control in Automated Systems: Explore the design and implications of feedback loops in control systems.


28. Dynamic Behavior of Drones: Investigate the forces and controls influencing drone flight.


Ideas contributed by a Lumiere Mentor from the University of Michigan.


If any of these ideas spark your interest, or if you have something of your own, then get to it! A good research project will work wonders in enhancing your college application(s) in STEM fields. Admissions officers respect quality research projects done with a clear, measurable objective in mind - if you can explain concisely what you researched, why you did it, and what is the impact and provide clear metrics wherever possible, then you can be confident your research and your application will stand out from the pile.


If you’re looking to build a project/research paper in the field of AI & ML, consider applying to Veritas AI! 


Veritas AI is founded by Harvard graduate students. Through the programs, you get a chance to work 1-1 with mentors from universities like Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and more to create unique, personalized projects. In the past year, we had over 1000 students learn AI & ML with us. You can apply here!



Pursue independent research with the Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re looking for the opportunity to do in-depth research on the above topics and more under the guidance of a mentor, you could also consider applying to one of the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs, selective online high school programs for students I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.


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