Leigh McCue receives Beck Foundation Fellowship

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Leigh McCue with students
Interim (now main) department chair Leigh McCue with her students at her Vessel Dynamics Lab.

Leigh McCue, associate professor and interim chair of mechanical engineering is looking to take a deeper dive into her research at the Vessel Dynamics Lab. The recent recipient of the Beck Foundation Faculty Fellow award is building a fleet of maritime robots and will use the funds from the award to expand this work.

Buddy Beck, president of the Beck Foundation, was instrumental in making the fellowship possible. He says, “Through the award of its faculty fellowship, the foundation is pleased to support the school’s vision—producing scholars that impact the well-being of society.”

Before coming to Mason in 2019, McCue served as the American Society of Naval Engineers executive director. Her research interests are in nonlinear and chaotic vessel dynamics and computational fluid dynamics. This work has been supported by the Office of Naval Research, National Science Foundation, NASA, the U.S. Coast Guard, CSC, QinetiQ, and the Northeast Center for Occupational Safety and Health.

Julie Sorenson, director of the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety, and frequent collaborator with McCue says, “Dr. McCue has a rare blend of brilliance, intellect, humility, passion for research and people skills that make her a valuable collaborator and talented scientist. In the years to come, I have no doubt that she’ll be at the center of scientific advancements that contribute greatly to her community, colleagues, and humanity.”

McCue’s studies that develop and build upon underwater and surface unmanned vehicles are a fairly recent addition to her growing and collaborative interests. Previously her work was largely computational or analytical, but Mason’s waterfront facilities at the Potomac Science Center have enabled a more hardware-centric focus. 

“Maritime robotics can be a door-opener for so many things,” says McCue. “They can collect data in conditions that may be unsafe or even just unpleasant, for people and the applications are endless, from environmental monitoring to defense.” 

McCue noted that these platforms are particularly amenable to undergraduate research. She had a former undergraduate researcher who worked on converting a couple of remote-control boats to autonomous operation for water quality monitoring. Currently, she has an undergraduate researcher exploring how to make underwater vehicles more accessible for use by people with physical limitations. 

“I am honored to be a small part of the large mark the Beck Family Foundation is making at Mason,” says McCue.