James Allison

James Allison

Assistant Professor

313 Transportation Building

For more information


  • Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering, University of Michigan, 2008
  • MSE, Industrial and Operations Engineering, University of Michigan, 2005
  • MSE, Mechanical Engineering, University of Michigan, 2004
  • BS, Mechanical Engineering, University of Utah, 2003
  • AAS, Automotive Technology, Weber State University, 1998


James T. Allison is the director of the Engineering System Design Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Professor Allison's research interests include design methods for active dynamic systems, system architecture and topology optimization, multidisciplinary design optimization, design-driven model development, indirect design representations, knowledge extraction from design optimization data, and design for additive manufacturing. Application interests include sustainable energy systems (wind and wave energy), electric and hybrid electric powertrains, suspension and vibration control systems, electro-thermal systems, intelligent structures, robotics, spacecraft design, structural and material system design, fluid systems, and advanced design of scientific instruments. Selected current research projects include strain-actuated solar arrays for precision space telescope pointing (including upcoming CubeSat mission, NASA SBIR award, and NSF CAREER award), wind energy grid integration and small-scale wind energy harvesting, power inverter design, fluid mixer and hydraulic power system design, circuit topology design, aircraft power system architecture design, active automotive and rail suspension design, vibration isolation, and generative design in topology optimization and additive manufacturing.

Academic Positions

  • Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering, 2011 - Present
  • Lecturer, Tufts University, Mechanical Engineering, 2010-2011
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Michigan, Mechanical Engineering, 2008

Other Professional Employment

  • Senior Engineer, MathWorks, Inc., Natick MA, 2008-2011
  • Consulting Engineer, Ford Motor Company, Dearborn MI, 2008

Professional Highlights

  • Prof. Allison received the NSF CAREER award "Integrated Design of Intelligent Structures with Tailored Distributed Damping" in 2017.
  • One of the founding faculty members of the NSF Engineering Research Center "Power Optimization of Electro-thermal Systems" (POETS), an $18M research center (start date: August 2015). Assisted with writing center proposal, participated in numerous site visit and review activities. Leading multiple system design projects, including serving as PI on six current research projects. Helped secure partner membership with Toyota ($100,000 per year), one of the first POETS partner members.
  • Co-PI and one of three technical leads for the 2016-2018 NASA USIP project "Cooling, Annealing, and Pointing Satellite" (CAPSat), a CubeSat that is slated to be launched into low-earth orbit late 2018. This CubeSat will include tests of a new high-precision attitude control system based on strain-actuated solar arrays (SASA). The SASA concept is a result of a collaboration between Prof. Allison's research group and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and has also led to a 2017 NASA SBIR award with CU Aerospace (Prof. Allison is the university PI). See also CAPSat media coverage.
  • Prof. Allison has transformed ISE education at the freshman-level by creating and delivering a new project-based curriculum to help students develop engineering judgment and understand the connection between mathematics, science, and practical engineering design. He has been awarded several curriculum development grants (internal and external) to support this work. Prof. Allison has extended these hands-on approaches to a variety of other courses that he teaches. Media coverage. Journal article (GE 100). Conference article (GE 410).
  • Prof. Allison contributed to the founding of a new theme (similar to a research center) within the the UIUC Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB). This theme, “Biosystems Design”, began with a $2M grant from the Roy J. Carver Trust that Prof. Allison is Co-PI on. This initial award was used primarily to support the development of a sophisticated reconfigurable robotic system for rapid automation of synthetic biology experiments. Prof. Allison advised multiple students contributing to the Biosystems Design theme in the areas of robotic automation, new scheduling strategies for automating unique heterogeneous experiments, and new optimization-based methods for designing larger-scale genetic regulatory networks (resulting in a journal publication in Engineering Optimization). Prof. Allison contributed to multiple follow-on proposals (including to NSF, NIH, and DARPA) to establish and expand the IGB theme, leveraging the new robotic automation capabilities established by the initial award. One large center proposal (DARPA 1K Molecules Program) was awarded phase 1 funding (6 months) to conduct preliminary work toward a potential $35M center award (phase 2 not funded). Prof. Allison was the Robotics and Automation Team Lead for phase 1.
  • Selected as the 2013 ASME Design Automation Young Investigator Award Winner. Prof. Allison is the first person to receive the DAYI Award after only two years as a faculty member. Media coverage.
  • Invited to deliver the Keynote Lecture at the 2012 Deere & Co. Model-Based Systems Design and Systems Engineering Conference on November 29th in Moline IL.

Resident Instruction

  • GE 413: Engineering Design Optimization
  • GE 410: Component Design
  • GE 598: Dynamic System Design
  • GE 598: Dynamic System Modeling and Design
  • GE 598: Engineering Design Science
  • GE 100: Introduction to ISE

Graduate Research Opportunities

For information on current graduate student research opportunities, required background, and other information pertinent to joining the ESDL, please refer to this document.

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Several undergraduate students are involved in research projects at the Engineering System Design Lab, and we are often looking for bright and ambitious students to join our group. Please read through this document for information on opportunities and steps you can take to get involved with ESDL research.

Research Interests

  • Spacecraft Design and Control
  • Intelligent Structure Design and Vibration Control
  • Automotive Design (Hybrid Powertrains, Active Suspension Systems)
  • Design for Additive Manufacturing
  • Electro-Thermal System Design Optimization
  • Robotics and Automation
  • Sustainable Energy Systems (Wind and Wave Energy Systems)
  • Topology Optimization and System Architecture Design
  • Dynamic System Modeling and Simulation
  • Generative Design
  • Integrated Physical and Control System Design
  • Multidisciplinary Design Optimization
  • Design Optimization
  • Engineering System Design

Selected Articles in Journals

Articles in Conference Proceedings

Invited Lectures

Other Publications

  • James T Allison, Deborah Thurston, Madhav Arora, Siyao Luan. "Toward a Method for Achieving Synergy between Heuristic Rules of Thumb and Quantitative Methods in Engineering Design." 2017 NSF Design Workshop
  • Jonathon K Schuh, Yong Hoon Lee, James T Allison, Randy H Ewoldt. 'A Validated Computational Model for the Design of Surface Textures in Full-Film Lubricated Sliding.' Presentation, The 69th Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society – Division of Fluid Dynamics, Portland, OR, USA, Nov 2016.
  • Yong Hoon Lee, Jonathon K Schuh, Randy H Ewoldt, James T Allison. 'Generalization of Surface Texture Shape Reduces Friction and Increases Load Capacity Simultaneously in Sliding Contact with Full-Film Lubrication.' Presentation, CCEFP Fluid Power Innovation & Research Conference 2016, Minneapolis, MN, USA, Oct 2016.
  • Jonathon K Schuh, Yong Hoon Lee, James T Allison, Randy H Ewoldt. 'Design Appropriate Modeling for Determining Optimal Friction Reduction with Surface Textures.' Presentation, CCEFP Fluid Power Innovation & Research Conference 2016, Minneapolis, MN, USA, Oct 2016.
  • Jonathon K Schuh, Yong Hoon Lee, James T Allison, Randy H Ewoldt. '1G.3 Rheological Design for Efficient Fluid Power.' Presentation, CCEFP Webinar Series 2016, Feb 2016.
  • James T. Allison "Generating Design Knowledge Through Systematic Investigation of Interacting Physical Phenomena." Poster presentation, 2015 NSF Design Circles Workshop.
  • Jonathon K Schuh, Yong Hoon Lee, James T Allison, Randy H Ewoldt. 'Surface Textures and Non-Newtonian Fluids for Decreasing Friction in Lubricated Sliding Contact.' Presentation, CCEFP Fluid Power Innovation & Research Conference 2015, Minneapolis, MN, USA, Oct 2015.
  • Anand Deshmukh, Marlon Mitchell, James T. Allison. "Advancing Undergraduate Design Learning Through Extensive Use of Hands-On Model-Based Design Projects." Poster presentation, UIUC College of Engineering Celebration of Teaching, April 24, 2015.
  • Anand Deshmukh, James T. Allison. “Integrated Physical and Control System Design Methods for Wind Turbines.” Poster presentation, 3rd NREL Wind Energy Systems Engineering Workshop, January 14th, 2015, Boulder, CO.
  • Jason McDonald, Oscar Alvarez-Salazar, James Allison. “Strain Actuation & Sensing of SC Structures for Payload Jitter Suppression and Momentum Dumping.” Poster presentation, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Research and Development poster session, November 12, 2014, Pasadena, CA.
  • James T. Allison. "Design Principles for Autonomous Engineering Systems." Poster presentation, WSRI AHEAD Conference, December 2013, Dayton OH.


  • “Precision-Pointing Control Architecture based on Strain Actuated Solar Arrays” CIT File No.: CIT-7668-P, Filed: 12/21/2016. SBIR awarded (with CU Aerospace, June - Nov 2017) based on this technology.


Conferences Organized or Chaired

  • Member of the Scienti fic Advisory Committee and special session organizer (Multidisciplinary Design Optimization of Dynamic Systems), World Congress on Structural and Multidisciplinary Optimization (2012-Present).
  • Member of the Scienti fic Committee, International Conference on Engineering Design (2012-Present).
  • ASME International Design Engineering Technical Conferences & Computers and Information in Engineering Conference, Symposium Organizer and Chair (2008-Present). Topics: Multidisciplinary Design Optimization; Active System Design; Design for Energy Efficiency; Design and Optimization of Sustainable Energy Systems; Design of Complex Systems; Risk, Uncertainty, and Robustness.


  • Engineering Council Award for Excellence in Advising (April 2012)
  • Engineering Council Outstanding Advising Award (April 2016)

Teaching Honors

  • Nominated for the Illinois Student Senate Teaching Excellence Award (Official Voice of the Student Body) (February 2012)
  • Recognized on the List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent, UIUC (Fall 2013) (March 2014)

Research Honors

  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (April 2004)
  • Nominated for the ISSMO/Springer Prize, Young Investigator Award (unsolicited nomination) (May 2007)
  • 2013 ASME Design Automation Young Investigator Award (August 2013)
  • 2014 JPL Research Poster Conference Award. (May 2015)

Other Honors

  • Member Phi Kappa Phi, Collegiate Honor Society (1999)
  • Member Pi Tau Sigma, Mechanical Engineering Honor Society (2001)
  • Member Tau Beta Pi, Engineering Honor Society (2002)
  • Lincoln Arc Welding Foundation Gold Award (advisor), student design competition (2014)
  • MathWorks File Exchange Pick of the Week (2016)

Courses Taught

  • GE 100 - Introduction to ISE
  • GE 410 - Component Design
  • GE 413 - Engrg Design Optimization
  • GE 598 - Dynamic Sys Modeling and Dsgn
  • GE 598 - Dynamic System Design
  • GE 598 - Engineering Design Science
  • SE 410 - Component Design
  • SE 413 - Engrg Design Optimization

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