Faculty Directory
J. Alex Birdwell

Associate Professor of Instruction in Undergraduate Engineering


2133 Sheridan Road
Ford 1.204
Evanston, IL 60208-3109

847-467-3858Email J. Alex Birdwell


Lightboard Studio

NU Robotics Club


Undergraduate Engineering

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PhD Mechanical Engineering, Northwestern University, 2012

MS Mechanical Engineering, Northwestern University, 2006

BS Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech, 2004


Alex Birdwell is immensely passionate about teaching and has covered an array of courses within the mechanical engineering department and the Segal Design Institute. He currently focuses on user centered design courses at the freshman and senior level.  He aims to engage his students with real-world applications and examples, open dialogue and discussions during class, a thorough understanding of the materials, and unique classroom demonstrations created with everyday objects. His teaching methods seek to bridge the gap between materials which students are already familiar, both through classroom theory and personal experiences, and new materials they’re currently learning.

Dr. Birdwell is also a McCormick advisor and provides academic guidance to first-year engineering students.  His advising model centers around helping students define their objectives while working with them to become self-sufficient individuals discovering an optimal path for their time at Northwestern and beyond.

Professor Birdwell is a faculty advisor for the NU Robotics Club, which is co-advised with Professor Nick Marchuk.

Significant Recognition

  • 2016 Cole-Higgins Award for Excellence in Advising
  • 2013 - 2014 Faculty Honor Roll, as voted by Northwestern's Associated Student Government

Courses taught

DSGN 106-1 & 2 - Design Thinking and Communication 1 & 2 (DTC)

ME 220 - Introduction to Thermodynamics

ME 224 - Experimental Engineering

ME 240 - Introduction to Mechanical Design and Manufacturing

ME 340-1 - Manufacturing Processes

ME 398 - Capstone Design

Selected publications

Bacon HKK, Birdwell JA, Brown O, Tevaarwerk E, Freeman RW, Roldan W, Gentry KL, and Pokryfky AR. Academic Advising and Student Affairs Working Together to Improve First-year Experience of Engineering Students. 125th Annual Conference of ASEE. Salt Lake City, UT USA, June 24-27, 2018.

Freeman RW, Birdwell JA, Tevaarwerk E, Gentry KL, and Brown O. Engineering and Technology Literacy Introduced in Cornerstone Design Courses. 125th Annual Conference of ASEE. Salt Lake City, UT USA, June 24-27, 2018.

DeCosta ET, Birdwell JA, Gentry K, Freeman RW, and Wolff AR (2017, June), Work in Progress: Analyzing Student Outcomes to Inform First-Year Advising Practices and Policies at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering
Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. https://peer.asee.org/29143

Birdwell JA and Peshkin MA.  Capturing Technical Lectures on Lightboard.  122nd American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, WA, USA, June 14-17, 2015.

Birdwell JA, Hargrove LJ, Weir RF, and Kuiken RA.  Extrinsic Finger and Thumb Muscles Command a Virtual Hand to Allow Individual Finger and Grasp Control.  IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering.  62(1): 218-226.  2014.

Cariani, C, Segil, JL, Birdwell, JA, and Weir, RF.  Dexterous Control of a Prosthetic Hand Using Fine-Wire Intramuscular Electrodes in Targeted Extrinsic Muscles. IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering. 2014.

Birdwell JA, Hargrove LJ, Kuiken TA, and Weir RF.  Isolated Activation of the Extrinsic Thumb Muscles and Compartments of the Extrinsic Finger Muscles.  J Neurophysiology.  2013.

Birdwell JA, Hargrove LJ, Weir RF. Quantification of Isolated Muscle Compartment Activity in Extrinsic Finger Muscles for Potential Prosthesis Control Sites. 33RD Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, Boston, USA, 2011.

Birdwell JA, Solomon JH, Thajchayapong M, Taylor MA, Cheely M, Towal RB, Conradt J, and Hartmann MJ. Biomechanical models for radial distance determination by the rat vibrissal system. J Neurophysiol 98: 2439-2455, 2007.  The model presented in this paper is now referred to within the research community as “The Birdwell Model.”