Faculty Directory

Dankowicz, Harry

Dankowicz, Harry

Professor and Chair
A. James Clark School of Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
2181B Glenn L. Martin Hall

Dr. Dankowicz's science scholarship is premised on a strong commitment to interdisciplinary research across a variety of platforms to leverage complementary research paradigms and expand the impact of his contributions. His work aims to uncover innovative solutions to challenges in food production, manufacturing, and energy generation using original contributions to rigorous control theory, complex systems analysis, and algorithm development. With his collaborators, he collects data, builds software tools, proves theorems, formulates heuristic models, and proposes engineering solutions.

Dr. Dankowicz's work has involved extensive industrial collaboration, including with C‐Motion Inc. on tools for dynamic gait analysis, Veeco Instruments on nanoscale surface characterization, and Deere & Co on a range of agricultural applications, such as a self‐calibration technology that resulted in a US patent in 2015. He has collaborated with pediatric orthopedists and entomologists, contributing to innovations in software and hardware tools for characterization and treatment of idiopathic scoliosis and high-throughput computer‐aided analyses of trophallaxis interaction networks in beehives.

Dr. Dankowicz has successfully engaged many undergraduate students in his research, through independent study projects and capstone design projects. He has mentored these students in co‐authoring of conference papers, poster dissemination of research, and intellectual property protection of original inventions, resulting in several undergraduates being listed as co‐inventors on a patent application. Dr. Dankowicz is committed to facilitating such integration of research and education throughout his professional work, including training in translational research and commercialization.

Consistent with his interest in interdisciplinary research, Dr. Dankowicz sees a great convergence within the engineering research community of diverse ideas and perspectives aiming to achieve significant impact on real‐world challenges and he is excited to be able to contribute to such developments. In his group, curiosity drives him to uncover original solutions to fundamental problems of engineering design, robot dynamics and control, complex systems analysis, and algorithm development. On a national and global scale, he hopes to inspire and enable new generations of scientists and engineers from all communities to pursue discovery and innovation.

Dr. Dankowicz's research aims to advance foundational knowledge and techniques of design, modeling, analysis, optimization, and control of the behavior of dynamical system, including those describing complex, multi-agent interaction networks and autonomous robotic systems. Applications to renewable energy technologies, collective behavior of social insects and humans, microelectromechanical devices, constrained uncertainty quantification, and large-scale field agriculture.

His ongoing interest in time‐dependent interaction networks is motivated by the emergence of self-organization in complex systems, such as insect societies or groups of humans. His work has explored empirical data obtained from social interactions in experimental honeybee colonies and, in parallel work, from individual actions of human participants playing simple coordinated computer games. The goal has been to explain how successful organization can arise without centralized supervision or control, and to characterize the influence of network topology and temporal activity.

Dr. Dankowicz's group has investigated epidemic and opinion‐dynamics models of information transmission on various empirical network datasets and has contributed to the formulation of new null models for statistical analysis of the efficacy of such transmission. In theoretical work on heuristic agent‐based models of small‐group coordination, they showed how network topology may drive optimum‐seeking dynamics, based entirely on local interactions, to a condition of complete failure to coordinate. In recent work, they explored problems of network optimization in models of coupled phase‐oscillators and activity‐driven time‐dependent networks with application to synchronization and consensus formation. They investigated self‐excited dynamics in networks of coupled linear and nonlinear oscillators as a mechanism for enhanced responsiveness of the network to sporadic external excitation.

Dr. Dankowicz's ongoing interest in model‐free design optimization is motivated by problems obscured by uncertainty, nonlinearity, and latency, for example hybrid experiments with floating wind turbines. His group has built an original algorithmic framework for the treatment of multi‐segment boundary‐value problems with or without delay, including the automatic generation of the adjoint conditions required for constrained design optimization with both equality and inequality constraints. They have shown how this applies to robust design optimization with objective functions expressed in terms of statistical properties of uncertain systems, and to quantifying the influence of noise on the system dynamics. Recently, they derived adaptive control strategies with guaranteed performance for model‐free parameter continuation analysis using real‐time experimental data. Inspired by these developments, they have begun to investigate software‐in‐the‐loop sensor designs that combine self‐excited oscillator dynamics with nonlinear iterative solvers to increase sensor gain and robustness.

Dr. Dankowicz's ongoing interest in coordinated autonomy of robotic systems is motivated by applications to unstructured environments, for example field‐crop agricultural operations. His group explored the design and operation of autonomous refill vehicles servicing tractor‐pulled planters during large‐scale seeding of field crops. As the task of seeding is both time‐consuming and sensitive to environmental conditions, uninterrupted operation using such service vehicles affords a more efficient use of human resources, as well as a significant reduction in risk associated with adverse weather. In addition to detailed engineering designs of a pressurized seed‐transfer system, this work investigated a task scheduling and motion planning algorithm for optimal deployment of a small number of refill vehicles in service of simultaneous seeding operations across multiple adjacent fields.


As an instructor, Dr. Dankowicz aims to provide flexible and accessible learning modalities, including by making effective use of online materials and computer‐based assessment mechanisms. He is interested in student‐centered learning environments that rely on principles of active and project‐based learning. As a mentor, he is committed to his mentees’ professional growth and well‐being. His efforts have been recognized by national and institutional awards, including the ASEE Fred Merryfield Design Award, the ASEE Archie Higdon Distinguished Educator Award, awards for teaching excellence and innovation at Virginia Tech and University of Illinois at Urbana‐Champaign (UIUC), and for outstanding advising at UIUC.

Dr. Dankowicz has authored textbooks, built educational software, and produced online course content. In a junior-level dynamics course, he created short animated online video lectures to substitute for in‐class lectures, while the in‐class experience was dedicated to small teams of students exploring the theoretical material and problem‐solving strategies. This combination enabled him to interact directly with individual students and to ensure a level of engagement and active participation that is rarely seen in traditional teacher‐centered learning environments.

Dr. Dankowicz wrote the textbook Multibody Mechanics and Visualization as part of a multiyear effort to build a class on robot dynamics for computer‐savvy students with an interest in engineering design. The book was complemented by a computer‐algebra toolbox and a Windows‐based simulation and animation package for visualizing the dynamics of arbitrary multibody mechanisms. In addition to the extensive use of active‐learning exercises and programming assignments, the course relied on patent documents as the basis for project‐based learning. Students were expected to reduce the formal description of a mechanical invention to a mathematical model and reproduce its design and function in a realistic simulation and animation. Close integration of software tools enabled students to explore concepts iteratively and with freedom to make and recognize mistakes.

Dr. Dankowicz trains his graduate students and postdocs in the elements of a professional career, including interdisciplinary, industry, and international collaboration, as well as a responsible approach to the impact of their work and to maintaining the integrity of the research enterprise. He provide his mentees with opportunities to make visible contributions also outside of normal scholarship, including as coinventors of intellectual property and co‐authors of software tools and training material.

To achieve sustained impact across disciplines, Dr. Dankowicz has developed non‐traditional content accessible to a broad audience at multiple educational levels. He co‐produced a training resource on responsible conduct in computational modeling and research, available through the National Center for Professional & Research Ethics. During his tenure as Editor‐in‐Chief of ASME Applied Mechanics Reviews, he produced a podcast series of 22 full‐length edited audio interviews with researchers in applied mechanics and engineering science.

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More than 500 Clark School Seniors Showcase Engineering Solutions to Real-World Problems

Dankowicz to Become Chair of UMD Mechanical Engineering

UIUC professor will assume leadership of the UMD department starting in January.

American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)

  • Fellow