Career Spotlight: Mechatronics Engineer

Leila Madrone is a mechatronics engineer -- a combination of electrical and mechanical engineering -- who works at Otherlab, a San Francisco start-up company. She leads an engineering team that is trying to improve large solar power fields. By changing the size and materials of heliostats, structures that include large mirrors to reflect sunlight, she can make high-concentration solar systems more energy efficient and less costly. Madrone has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from MIT. Before she joined Otherlab she was part of the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA, where she created a device for taking high-resolution panoramic images. She chose to become an engineer because she wanted to help create a better world. She says that if you’re curious and have a desire to improve the world around you, you may enjoy a career as an engineer.

This video is part of our Energy collection.

Pre-viewing Questions

  • What do you think a mechatronics engineer does?
  • What are some projects she might work on or items she might develop?
  • What tools do you think she uses?

Focus Questions for Viewing

  • What does Leila Madrone do as a mechatronics engineer?
  • What are heliostats?
  • Why are Madrone and her team working on new designs for heliostats? What problems are they trying to solve?
  • What was her career path?
  • What education is needed to be a mechatronics engineer?
  • What are the benefits of the job or career? What does Madrone like most about her job?
  • Who does she work with?
  • What skills does she need to have for her job?

Post-viewing Questions

  • Madrone builds models of the heliostats. What aspects of the models do you think she analyzes and tests in order to improve their design?
  • What aspects of this career are most interesting to you?
  • What questions do you still have?

Extension Activity

Have your students create their own renewable energy career spotlight video or narrated slideshow! Research local companies, colleges, and universities for people working in the field who students can contact for an interview. A worksheet with tips for planning interviews and information about creating narrated slideshows and videos can be found in the Media-Making Toolkit for Science Education.

Links to Learn More

  • Solar Career Map, U.S. Department of Energy interactive -- Explore a number of careers in the solar power industry. Learn about career paths, job requirements and responsibilities, salary ranges and more.
  • Energy 101: Concentrating Solar Power, U.S. Department of Energy video -- Learn about the basics of concentrating solar power and how it is used to produce electricity.
  • Big Solar Comes of Age, QUEST video -- Hear about the largest solar thermal plant in the world as it opens, following a debate that pitted renewable energy against a threatened tortoise. The Ivanpah solar plant, in California’s Mojave Desert, is one of seven big solar farms scheduled to open in California in the coming months, as a result of the state’s push to produce one-third of its electricity from renewable energy.
  • What Are Heliostats?, WiseGEEK website -- In this post from WiseGEEK, find out more about heliostats, the mechanisms that Leila Madrone and her team are working to redesign.

NGSS Correlations

  • Performance Expectation: Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing, and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios. HS-ESS3-2
  • Disciplinary Core Idea: All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks, as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors. HS-ESS3.A: Natural Resources
  • Science and Engineering Practices: Developing and using models, analyzing and interpreting data, using mathematics and computational thinking, designing solutions