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Dr. Michael Littman

Dr. Michael Littman is the Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University. He was the 2015-2016 Joanna Nichols Visiting Scholar.



Perusing the freshmen course catalogue at Princeton University, students find all the usual 101 offerings in subjects like English, mathematics, and philosophy. Students don’t expect to find a freshman seminar in vintage motorcycle restoration. Yet this is exactly what’s on offer in a class called Art and Science of Motorcycle Design, taught by TAS’s 2015-2016 Joanna Nichols Visiting Scholar, Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Professor and Departmental Representative at Princeton University, Dr. Michael Littman.

Dr. Littman joined the TAS faculty for the month of January and lectured on electronics, advanced robotics, and the history of engineering. His years of experience teaching engineering at Princeton made him the ideal scholar to work within our robotics lab. He has a passion for teaching, often taking on two and a half times the course load as his university colleagues. Dr. Littman brought this passion for teaching to his class lectures, a parent tea, and a division-wide presentation in front of the upper school students and faculty.


His years of experience teaching engineering at Princeton made him the ideal scholar to work within our robotics lab.


During the upper school presentation, Dr. Littman overviewed his freshman seminar, Art and Science of Motorcycle Design. He showed how motorcycle reconstruction teaches students about engines and engineering. He shared photos and videos of students taking apart, repairing, and putting back together old motorcycle parts. He even shared videos of a Henry Ford engine and students driving a Model-T; both built or restored as part of a class at Princeton. Throughout the talk, he applied anecdotes from the course’s required reading, Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, to engine concepts such as angular speed.

Dr. Littman received his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1989, the Franklin Institute made him an Honorary Life member and in 2005, he received the OSA Engineering Excellence Award. He enjoys researching optics and lasers, as well as robots and automated controls. The versatile nature of Dr. Littman’s knowledge bridged the gap between the humanities and engineering. For example, Dr. Littman lectured to history classes on Henry Ford and engineering the Panama Canal. He also addressed parents on the value of a liberal arts education. Audiences found his lectures and presentations to be interesting, relevant, and important.


The versatile nature of Dr. Littman’s knowledge bridged the gap between the humanities and engineering.


At TAS, Dr. Littman applied his expertise in working with the robotics classes. The caliber of the students and the quality of the lab space impressed him. “TAS seems to have very respectful students,” said Dr. Littman, “they listen and are very, very capable when teaching them electronics.” As for the lab itself, he coveted the parent-donated water jet cutter. “We have some pretty cool tools at Princeton,” he explained, “but your water jet cutter is something I would love to have.”

When not in the classroom, Dr. Littman found his element in Taipei at the Guang Hwa Digital Plaza. Guang Hwa is a multi-story market full of electronics. Dr. Littman lamented that in the United States, he has to buy everything online. But the experience at Guang Hwa is something different altogether. He said, “If I were in Taipei, I would be there every weekend. You can go and see all these cool things.”

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