M. Cynthia Hipwell, who earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering (MECH) from Rice University in 1992, and last year was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), is among the recipients of Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s 2017-18 Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI), a program aimed at attracting exceptional researchers to the state.
Hipwell this year returned to Texas and joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M as an Engineering Experiment Station Distinguished Research Professor. After leaving Rice, Hipwell earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. in MECH from the University of California at Berkeley in 1996. That same year, she went to work for the recording head division of Seagate Technology, the data-storage company that developed the first 5.25-inch hard disk drive (HDD) in 1980.
There Hipwell led development of new technologies and tools that reduced the space between the recording head and the magnetic disk, allowing more data to be stored in disk drives. More recently, her team collaborated with others to demonstrate a new recording technology, heat-assisted magnetic recording. As a result of her work for Seagate, Hipwell is the holder of 15 U.S. patents.
When elected to the NAE, Hipwell was cited for “leadership in the development of technologies to enable areal density increases in hard disk drives.” Areal density in a hard drive refers to the quantity of bits of information that can be stored on the surface area of magnetic disks.
In September 2015, Hipwell became vice president of engineering for Bühler, Inc., in Plymouth, Minn., a Swiss-owned company that develops facilities, equipment and services for processing foods and manufacturing advanced materials.
With the GURI funding, Hipwell expects to develop commercially relevant nanoscale technologies. She hopes to explore how new tools, such as virtual and augmented reality and machine learning applied to mechanical engineering problems, can speed the innovation and technology development process.
“This grant will allow me, along with my collaborators, to establish a strong presence for Texas A&M in these areas,” Hipwell said.
Her areas of research include devices based upon nanoscale phenomena and the application of tools for innovation acceleration such as 3-D printing, machine learning and design virtualization.
At Rice, Hipwell studied fluid mechanics with the late Alan Chapman; dynamics with Pol Spanos, the Lewis B. Ryon Professor of Mechanical Engineering and of Civil Engineering; and heat transfer with Yildiz Bayazitoglu, the Harry S. Cameron Professor in Mechanical Engineering.