2011-12 Chapter One

From Undergraduate Engineering Handbook

Jump to: navigation, search


1. For Freshmen and Sophomores 

Just as it is for students at any university at the beginning of the year, your first weeks here will certainly be exciting, and may be overwhelming. For freshmen everything is new, and during orientation and as the school year begins you will be immersed in a constant stream of academic information together with many bits and pieces of Stanford culture. For sophomores, as you begin to move toward study that is more specialized, there will still be much for you to discover. This Handbook can help to inform your academic choices and provide some perspective on the School of Engineering within Stanford University.

SoE Events and Announcements:  There are some events and announcements every year that are of particular interest or importance to an engineering major such as reorientations for freshman or sophomores, job or internship opportunities, and key instructions for seniors on how to prepare to graduate. Please watch for and pay attention to emails coming from the staff of your major department or the Office of Student Affairs – email is the only effective method of general communication with SoE students. 

Getting Started at Stanford

One of the great advantages of Stanford as an undergraduate institution is the tremendous breadth of excellence that the university offers. Some universities are strong in particular disciplines, while less so in others. The faculty and students we have been able to attract over the years have placed Stanford in the wonderful and exceptional position of being strong across the board. In engineering, as well as in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences, surveys conducted by the National Academies and other professional organizations that seek to assess the strength of academic programs all attest to the eminence of Stanford in education and research.

As an undergraduate, you should take the time to explore that wealth of academic excellence. Committing yourself prematurely to one discipline or coming in with too-firmly fixed ideas of exactly where you are going can take away from your chances to discover what Stanford has to offer, and to take advantage of all its diversity. Stanford encourages academic exploration by not requiring you to make a commitment up front; at many universities, students are asked to declare their intended major as part of the application process, particularly if they are interested in engineering. Not so at Stanford. Here, you need not declare a major until the beginning of your junior year. You have the time to explore different possibilities before settling on a major. 

At the same time, the flexibility that Stanford offers does not mean that you, as a prospective student of engineering, can afford to spend your first two years completely away from the techie side of things. Engineering majors typically require more courses and units than majors in other parts of the university. Technical courses, moreover, tend to be cumulative, in the sense that more advanced courses draw heavily on the material presented in the introductory courses that precede them. In engineering, you need to strike a balance between taking advantage of the freedom to explore and making sure that you are getting a reasonable start on an engineering curriculum.

Planning your First (and Second) Year

The best strategy is to avoid the extremes. A first-year schedule that includes no mathematics, science, or engineering will make it very difficult to complete an engineering major in four years. Conversely, it is surely a recipe for disaster to insist on packing your first year with three quarters each of calculus, physics, and chemistry along with the mandatory Introduction to the Humanities and Program in Writing and Rhetoric classes. There is too much work in each of those courses to take them all at the same time, particularly before you’ve had a chance to acclimate to Stanford’s intensity and rapid pace. You should seek an appropriate balance for your studies.

Exploring Engineering

There are several ways for students to explore the various engineering majors. One is through the freshman/sophomore seminar program and departmental seminars, and another is through the “Engineering Fundamentals.” The freshman/sophomore seminar program is described in detail in a separate publication from the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE), which you should receive as part of your orientation material. These seminars provide excellent opportunities for students to work with faculty in small settings, often on topics that aren’t otherwise part of the curriculum for a particular major. You should definitely try to find a seminar that interests you, whether or not it’s in engineering, and make that a part of your academic plans in your first or second year.

The 2011-2012 seminars in engineering are listed below. For course descriptions, consult the Explore Courses web site. To link to the IntroSems website, go to IntroSems.

Freshman/Sophomore Seminars 2011-12

Preference to Freshmen



Structures: Why Things Don't (and Sometimes Do) Fall Down (Wtr)



Electric Automobiles and Aircraft (Wtr)



Renewable Energy for a Sustainable World (Aut)



From the Foothills to the Bay (Spr)



The Art of Structural Engineering (Wtr)



Can Machines Know? Can Machines Feel? (Aut)



Computers and Photography: From Capture to Sharing (Aut)



 Computers and the Open Society (Aut)  CS  47N

Motion Planning for Robots, Digital Actors, & Other Moving Objects (Wtr)



Business of the Internet (Spr)



 Cell Phones, Sensors, and You (Spr)  CS  75N

Digital Dilemmas (Spr)



Green Electronics (Wtr)



Electronics Rocks (Wtr)



Medical Imaging Systems (Wtr)



What is Nanotechnology? (Wtr)



Man versus Nature: Coping with Disasters Using Space Technology (Wtr)



 What is Nanotechnology (Wtr)



The Internet: How it Works and the Services It Offers (Wtr)



What is Information (Spr)



 Engineering the Micro and Nano Worlds: From Chips to Genes (Spr)  EE  17N
 Think Like a Designer (Aut)  ME  26N

The Jet Engine (Aut)



How Stuff is Made (Aut)



Preference to Sophomores



Medical Device Innovation (Spr)



Environmental Regulation and Policy (Aut)



Masters of Disaster (Aut)



Art, Chemistry, and Madness: The Science of Art Materials (Spr)



Accessing Architecture through Drawing (Aut/Wtr)



Place: Making Space Now (Spr)



Electric Automobiles and Aircraft (Wtr)



The Flaw of Averages (Aut)



International Environmental Policy (Wtr)



 The Public use & Misuse of Mathematics: How to Interpret Numbers as Used by Media and Politicians (Spr)  MS&E  94Q

Nuclear Weapons, Energy, Proliferation, and Terrorism (Spr)



Japanese Companies and Japanese Society (Spr)



In addition to the above-listed seminars that offer the opportunity to work closely with faculty, many programs within the School of Engineering offer less intense one-unit seminars that provide exposure to key issues and current research within their disciplines. Generally, these seminars feature invited speakers and meet once a week for an hour or an hour and a half. They often require attendance only or attendance and modest participation, such as asking questions or writing brief responses to presentations. Some seminars (such as CHEMENG 10 and EE 100) are specifically designed to introduce new students to the field, while others (such as CS 547) are designed for upper-level undergraduates or graduate students, but are generally accessible to the interested non-expert. These seminars can provide a low-key way to explore different majors and research areas, and we encourage you to check out the ones in areas of interest to you. The following table lists some of the more popular seminars that have been offered in the past, but offerings do change from year to year: be sure to look in Axess each quarter for other such seminars in departments of interest to you.




The Chemical Engineering Profession

Chemical Engineering

CHEMENG 10, Autumn

Human-Computer Interaction Seminar

Computer Science

CS 547, Autumn, Winter, Spring


The Electrical Engineering Profession

Electrical Engineering

EE 100, Autumn

Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar

Management Science & Engineering

MS&E 472, Autumn, Winter, Spring



The “Engineering Fundamentals” courses, another way to explore topics within fields of engineering, are an integral part of the undergraduate engineering curriculum and play a different role than the seminars. There are twenty such courses and each serves as an introduction to an engineering discipline, endeavoring to build a foundation for more advanced work. For a list of these courses sorted by topic, see the "Opportunities for Students" page on this site. Each major requires a minimum of three fundamentals chosen from the list, one goal being to ensure that our students obtain some breadth in engineering outside of their major. Details on the Fundamentals are provided on page 21 of the 2011-12 UGHB pdf. For the 2011-12 list, go to ENGR Fundamentals Courses 2011-12. If, as a freshman, you are fairly certain which field of engineering you want to pursue, you might consider taking one of the Fundamentals in that area.

Mathematics Courses

As a general rule, students interested in an engineering major should take a calculus sequence in their first year. Choosing which calculus sequence to take, however, requires careful thought and the assistance of your advisor. Stanford offers several different entry points into the study of calculus: 

·         MATH 41 and 42 present single variable calculus, with an emphasis on differential calculus in the first quarter and integral calculus in the second.

·         MATH 19, 20, and 21 cover the same material as MATH 41 and 42, but do so in three quarters instead of two.

·         MATH 51, 52, and 53 are taken by students who enter Stanford with 10 units of AP credit, or who have completed either Math 42 or Math 21. The 50 series covers differential and integral calculus in several variables, linear algebra, and ordinary differential equations. These courses are taught in an integrated fashion, with differential calculus of several variables and linear algebra being taught in MATH 51, integral calculus with linear algebra in MATH 52, and differential equations, including matrix methods for solving systems, in MATH 53. Students who are unsure of their mathematics preparation should consult with an advisor in the mathematics department before registering for this sequence.

·         MATH 51H, 52H, and 53H cover the same material as in 51, 52, and 53, but with more emphasis on theory and rigor. These courses are designed for students who have a strong interest in majoring in mathematics with an inclination toward pure mathematics.

·         CME 100, 102, and 104 or 106 (same as ENGR 154, 155A, 155B, and 155C) cover material that is similar to that in the MATH 51, 52, 53 series, but do so in a different order and with a more explicit engineering focus. The Computational and Mathematical Engineering (CME) courses were developed for undergraduates interested in Engineering. CME 100 presents multivariable calculus with engineering applications. It also introduces MATLAB, a computer program that integrates mathematical computing and visualization, providing a deeper, more visual understanding of the basic principles of multivariable calculus (for those taking the 50 series, MATH 51M, a one-unit course given in autumn quarter, offers an introduction to MATLAB). CME 100 can replace the material in MATH 51 and 52 in an engineering undergraduate’s course requirements. Students can continue on with the CME 102/104/106 sequence, which covers the rest of the introductory mathematics curriculum with an emphasis on engineering applications. CME 102/104 and 106 require either MATH 51 and 52 or CME 100 as prerequisites.

For the 2011-2012 list of approved courses, go to Math Courses 2011-12.

Physics Courses

The decision of whether to take a physics course in your first year is not nearly as simple as your decision about mathematics. Given the fact that you will also be taking required courses in writing and the humanities, taking both mathematics and physics in your first year pretty much fills your schedule, leaving little room for seminars or other courses that spark your interest. Furthermore, although all engineering majors require physics, it is often unnecessary to take physics so early in your undergraduate program. For students interested in engineering majors that depend heavily on physics, such as Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering, taking physics in your first year makes a great deal of sense because physics is a prerequisite for many of the advanced courses. For most other engineering majors, however, it probably makes sense to delay physics until your sophomore year, giving you more flexibility in your course schedule. 

As with mathematics, there are several possible sequences that are appropriate for first-year students:

·         PHYSICS 41, 43, and 45 constitute the standard introductory sequence in physics and cover mechanics, electricity and magnetism, and light and heat, respectively. These courses are calculus-based and are generally far more intensive than typical high-school offerings, even at the advanced placement level. Even students who have taken AP physics—and therefore do not in fact need the credits for these courses—find them challenging. Because the Stanford courses cover so much more material and do so with greater depth and rigor, it often makes sense to give up the advanced placement credits and take these courses. Talk with your advisor for guidance in this area.

·         PHYSICS 61, 63, and 65 offer a more advanced sequence designed for prospective Engineering Physics or physics majors and those interested in a more rigorous introduction to the field.

·         PHYSICS 21, 23, and 25 provide a lower-level introduction to basic physics primarily intended for premedical students. Most departments in the School of Engineering do not accept these courses and require students to take the 40 series or a more advanced offering. However, if you are intending to major in a discipline that allows students to take these courses, such as Computer Science or many of the degree options in Management Science and Engineering, these courses may represent an attractive option.

For the list of approved physics or other science courses for 2011-2012, go to Science Courses 2011-12.

Chemistry Courses

For some engineering majors, such as Chemical Engineering and the School of Engineering majors associated with biology or medicine, taking a chemistry course in your first year is far more important than taking physics largely because Stanford requires students to take a year of introductory chemistry before enrolling in biology. In order to get any advanced biology courses into a four-year degree, it is critical to begin the chemistry sequence early.

The Chemistry Department has recently revised its undergraduate offerings, starting with the freshman year. The following information has been provided by the department. Returning students will recognize the changes from previous years, and freshmen will receive additional information through their advisors.

The two-quarter sequence Chemistry 31A and 31B is offered in the autumn and winter quarters respectively, and the one-quarter accelerated course, Chemistry 31X, is offered in the autumn quarter only. Additionally, students with a score of 5 on the Chemistry Advanced Placement Exam may continue to start in Chemistry 33, which is offered winter and spring quarters, but see the last paragraph in this section, below, about consequences for those preparing to apply to medical school. 

Chemistry 31A and Chemistry 31B cover all the essential topics in general chemistry that are required to prepare students for the subsequent courses in the curriculum. Only the more advanced portions of these same topics are covered in Chemistry 31X. Both tracks use the same textbook and will arrive at the same endpoint. Thus, Chemistry 31X is an accelerated course for students with a strong background in high school chemistry. Chemistry 31A and 31B is for students with moderate or no background in high school chemistry. Chemistry 31A is a prerequisite for taking Chemistry 31B. Students must decide before autumn quarter whether or not they will take the two-quarter track because it will not be offered again until the following year.

In addition to the courses offered by the Chemistry Department, the School of Engineering offers the course ENGR31, “Chemical Principles with Application to Nanoscale Science and Technology.”ENGR 31, offered autumn quarter only, provides a one-quarter freshman-level chemistry option that emphasizes topics and approaches that are of interest to engineers. The course will provide preparation in chemistry that is equivalent in rigor and scope to Chemistry 31 A&B, or Chemistry 31X. The applications of chemistry in materials technology will be discussed, including: relationships among the optical properties and electronic structures of molecules and solids; thermodynamics governing the reduction of oxide ores to produce high purity metals; kinetics of the chemical vapor deposition of silicon; the analogy between the pH of an aqueous solution and the Fermi Energy of electrons in a solid. 

The chemistry placement exam is required for students who are interested in taking Chemistry 31X in autumn quarter 2009 but who do not have a 5 on the AP exam. Students with a limited background in chemistry should sign up for Chemistry 31A, autumn quarter, and may continue with 31B during winter quarter (there is no need for this latter group to take the placement exam).  New students will take the test on Wednesday morning of Orientation week. Returning students have an opportunity to take the placement test on Sunday evening.

Chemistry 33 is the next course in the chemistry sequence after Chemistry 31A and 31B, Chemistry 31X, or ENGR 31. It is offered in winter and spring quarters. Students in Chemistry 31 A and B should plan to take Chemistry 33 in spring quarter. The laboratory course Chemistry 36 can be taken in the spring quarter with Chemistry 33 as a pre- or co-requisite. The laboratory course Chemistry 130 can be taken in the autumn quarter of a student’s second year with Chemistry 36 as a pre-requisite and Chemistry 35 as a pre- or co-requisite. 

Students with AP credit in chemistry forfeit this credit if they complete Chemistry 31X or Chemistry 31A and Chemistry 31B. Students who are planning to apply to medical school should be forewarned that not all medical schools accept AP credit. Therefore, it is recommended that pre-med students with a 5 on the Chemistry AP exam enroll in Chemistry 31X and not proceed directly to Chemistry 33. Questions concerning pre-med requirements should be directed to the Undergraduate Advising Programs office in Sweet Hall. For a list of chemistry or other science courses approved for 2011-2012, go to Science Courses 2011-12.

Summing up

Here is some general advice that comes from the collective experience of the SoE advisors:

·         Get to know your advisor. Every entering student at Stanford is assigned an advisor, usually in a discipline in which the student has expressed an interest. Many advisors are faculty, while some others are members of the staff or recent graduates. All advisors certainly have a good general sense of Stanford and its resources. Even if your advisor doesn’t know the answer to one of your questions, it is almost certain that the advisor knows where to find that answer. Your job is to make sure that you establish a good relationship with your advisor so that you can draw on that wealth of knowledge and experience.

·         Take a course that provides real engineering experience. Too many students spend their entire first year taking nothing beyond mathematics, physics, and the required writing and humanities courses. Such schedules make it hard to feel the excitement that comes from the quintessentially engineering activity of making something work. There are many courses—particularly in the Freshman Seminar program—that will give you an opportunity to engage in problem solving within an engineering domain.

·         Maintain flexibility. Each year, some of you arrive at Stanford absolutely convinced about your major and career plans; many more of you, however, will not be quite so certain by the end of your first year. Rather than commit early to a particular major or course of study, it makes sense to explore more broadly and to keep an open mind about the possibilities.

·         Get help when you need it. As at most universities, many students who start out with an interest in engineering end up leaving the field after running into problems in their introductory courses. For some, this decision is presumably the right one. Almost all of you, however, have what it takes to succeed in engineering. The same talent and drive that got you into Stanford should enable you to pursue your passion for engineering and go out into the world with a solid foundation in your chosen discipline. But you might need a little help along the way. Make sure you get that assistance when you need it, and not when it seems too late.

·         Plan ahead for an Overseas Program. With careful planning, many engineering students can fit study at one of Stanford’s overseas centers into their academic plans. Talk to your advisor as early as freshman year about planning for one or more quarters abroad (see “Engineers and Overseas Studies” section in Chapter 8).

·         Plan ahead for Coterm Degrees. In the School of Engineering, all graduate programs allow students to study for a master’s degree while completing their bachelor’s degree. Because admission requirements and optimal application times vary, students are encouraged to talk early to the department in which they are interested (as early as end of sophomore year) to understand options, deadlines, etc. See chapter on “Other Degree Programs” or the Bulletin for more information.

·         Have a wonderful year, and a successful time at Stanford.

  Chapter Two

Personal tools