Sophomore Henry Merrow developed an active air spring suspension system for automobiles in Germany.
An active air spring suspension system to maintain traction with the road and act as a shock absorber

Active Air Spring Suspension

At Technische Universität Darmstadt, Henry Merrow worked on a project involving the development of an active air spring suspension system for automobiles. An air spring suspension is like any other suspension system in an automobile, except that instead of a metal spring, an air spring is used (i.e. a cylinder full of compressed air). The objective of the suspension system is to maintain traction with the road and act as a shock absorber so that the driver does not feel every bump the car drives over. “Active” means that there is a mechanism by which the force that the suspension exerts can be changed in real-time – so the suspension can exert a specific force while the car is being driven under different circumstances, for example while making a turn or while going over an especially bumpy road. The desired exerted force is calculated to optimize traction, stability and driver comfort. Henry’s specific assignment within the project entailed setting up a hardware-in-the-loop simulation of the suspension system – this means using a test rig to test part of the physical suspension system and at the same time using mathematic models to test components of the system which could not be tested physically. “I was able to use skills that I had developed through my MIT education to learn quickly and work efficiently so I could make significant contributions to the project during my relatively short time at TU Darmstadt.”

Cultural Experience

While Henry’s research experience was useful and valuable for his educational development, he says the cultural experience of living and working in a foreign country was invaluable and irreplaceable. Gaining a different perspective gave Henry the opportunity to reflect on what aspects of both German and American culture he values. “I really appreciated how much more direct and honest communication is in Germany,” he says. “In America, people are often afraid of being too direct because they do not want to be insensitive or hurt anybody’s feelings; this however often leads to inefficiency and significant failures in communication.” Specifically at the University, the most striking cultural aspect that Henry recognized was the efficiency and organization. “Everything was structured; everything was organized; even the lunch breaks and coffee breaks were exactly the same time and same length every day,” Henry shares. “Everybody was always focused and almost never wasted any time –the structure and organization led to a high degree of efficiency and a consistently impressive amount of progress.”

Impact on Goals at MIT

AT MIT, MANY STUDENTS FEEL CONSTANT PRESSURE TO DO EVERYTHING POSSIBLE TO ACCELERATE THEIR PATH TOWARD WHAT THEY THINK WILL BE A SUCCESSFUL CAREER. IN THE MIDST OF ALL THIS PRESSURE, THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT AND GAIN A NEW PERSPECTIVE WITHOUT COMPROMISING THE OPPORTUNITY TO GAIN USEFUL EXPERIENCE IS REFRESHING AND INVALUABLE.

The opportunity for Henry to take a step back from his regular day-to-day life and reflect from a different perspective allowed him to refine his plans for the rest of his time at MIT. “My experience in Germany helped to define my goals and future plans. The MISTI program made it possible and prepared me so I could make the most of the opportunity.”

  • Germany
  • Internship
  • MechE