Around the Fountain

Mike Sherwood, supervisor of machining and building services for the School of Mechanical Engineering, and his staff support more than 900 undergraduate students, about 300 graduate students, and about 30 faculty members. They also support many student organizations, including Solar Car, First Robotics, SAE mini-Baja, and Formula SAE.

11.03.08 • 12:55 p.m. • Mechanical Engineering Shop, ME Building, Room 12

You describe yourself as a “a chief cook and bottle washer.” What does that mean?

Sherwood: In this department I wear many hats. I supervise the research machine and student machine shops. I help teach a measurement course for the juniors and seniors. I’m on the building committee for the Roger B. Gatewood addition to the Mechanical Engineering Building, and I’m on the ME safety committee.

How are you integral to the ME researchers?

Sherwood: Usually the professors or graduate students will come in and ask specific questions on how to do something, like, “How can this research device be machined?” It’s part of my responsibility to make sure things run smoothly in this department, and if someone asks me if I can do something for them, I’ll do my best to help them out.

What is the most innovative research project you’ve been involved with?

Sherwood: It’s hard to pick just one, because we do so many. A few that come to mind are a spinal implant testing machine and a rig to study the dynamics of brake pads and the squeal they produce. The research in ME is extremely diverse, and that keeps my job interesting.

What is the most innovative senior design project you’ve been involved with?

Sherwood: The DARPA car that involved more than 200 undergraduate students from ME, ECE, and CE. This was a competition sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to create the first fully autonomous ground vehicle capable of completing a substantial off-road course within a limited time.

What is the biggest project you ever worked on?

Sherwood: The particle accelerator job. I was working at the central machine shop at the time, and the job was contracted through the Physics Department. We were literally building 8-ton and 16-ton steel modules.

What brought you into this line of work?

Sherwood: My dad was a very mechanical person, and I really enjoy working with my hands. I took several machine shop classes in high school, and by my second year I was a teaching assistant in the metal shop course. My senior year, I co-oped at Purdue in the central machine shop, and they hired me right after graduation.

Do you ever get “impossible” requests?

Sherwood: It’s only impossible if you don’t know how to do it. It might take a little more research and thought, but I have a great staff and if I can’t figure it out, one of them will.

If you weren’t at Purdue, where would you be?

Sherwood: I’d probably be working in a factory somewhere or in electronics or the automotive industry.

What do you do in your free time?

Sherwood: I landscape, I’m an avid target-shooter, and I do a little gunsmithing. I like to help my neighbors, and I love to putter and tinker. Basically I keep myself busy.

If you could build anything you wanted in the machine shop, what would it be?

Sherwood: Well, I wouldn’t build anything for myself. I like building things for other people. All my projects are second priority. I’d rather be helping someone else.

– Joseph Fowler