Roberto Horowitz named mechanical engineering chair

Roberto Horowitz, the James Fife Endowed Chair Professor of Mechanical Engineering, has been named chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the UC Berkeley College of Engineering. Horowitz replaces David Dornfeld, who was named faculty director of the college’s Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation in August. The new chair position, announced by Dean Shankar Sastry this morning, is effective on December 1.

Roberto HorowitzRoberto Horowitz, new chair of mechanical engineering. (Photo by Preston Davis)Horowitz came to Berkeley as an undergraduate mechanical engineering student in 1975 and “never left.” He earned his Ph.D. in 1983, already serving as an acting assistant professor, and immediately joined the ME faculty.  As a student and then as a junior faculty member, Horowitz worked on mechanical robotic arms and was on the ground floor of the robotics revolution. His doctoral thesis on adaptive control of mechanical manipulators was the department’s first Ph.D. thesis on robotics and led to a specialization in control and control systems.

At a celebration for a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator award in 1987, Horowitz sat next to then-electrical engineering professor Roger Howe. From a conversation about their shared research interests sprung a collaboration in micromechanical systems and the first prototype of a microactuator for dual-stage actuation in computer hard-disk drives at the college.

Expanding his work in control systems to transportation, Horowitz served as director of Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology (formerly PATH) until last year; he continues to serves on the PATH advisory board. He was also the co-principal investigator of Connected Corridors, a collaborative research project aimed at improving California’s busiest traffic corridors, which operates out of the Institute for Transportation Studies.

“In his years here, Roberto has come to exemplify the Berkeley ethos of rigor, collaboration and service,” says Dean Sastry.

Born and raised in Venezuela, Horowitz has a long lineage with the university. He first came to Berkeley with his sister on the advice of his cousin, Manuel Blum, who was a professor in computer sciences at the college. While Horowitz was earning his doctoral degree, his mother joined him on campus to pursue a doctorate of her own, in library science. Also, his younger brother Eduardo earned his B.S. and M.S. in ME here, while his sister Jeannine earned a B.S. in genetics and went on to earn a Ph.D. in England.

“Berkeley takes the wealth of knowledge and expertise from around the world and extracts the best from each culture,” says Horowitz.