Denise McKahn

Associate Professor of Engineering

Denise McKahn

Contact & Office Hours

Ford Hall 353



Ph.D., M.S., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

B.S., Humboldt State University


Denise McKahn is a cross-disciplinary engineer who has studied environmental, mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering through both research and formal coursework. She is dedicated to the development of renewably derived fuel and electricity generation technologies through the design, modeling and control of dynamic and complex systems. She is particularly interested in both fuel cell electricity and electrolytic hydrogen production. Her recent work has explored the modeling and experimental validation of mass and thermal dynamics in polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells, as well as reactant pre-treatment, for active water and thermal management. The applications for her work have targeted both vehicular scale (1-100kW) and miniature scale (1-10W) power systems.

While obtaining her bachelor of science in environmental resources engineering, McKahn worked on fuel cell design and optimization as a research engineer at the Schatz Energy Research Center, a group dedicated to the advancement of clean and renewably produced technologies. Receiving a tremendous opportunity to help establish the Fuel Cell Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan, McKahn explored the modeling and control of fuel cell power systems while obtaining a masters in mechanical engineering and a doctorate in environmental engineering.

As a member of the faculty in the Picker Engineering Program, McKahn deeply appreciates the opportunity to live at the intersection of science, technology and policy. For it is within a liberal arts context that a more holistic engineering education can propel students to not just solve technological problems, but to evaluate the social and environmental impacts of competing alternatives and explore the appropriate use of technology. McKahn is committed to encouraging all Smith women to play critical roles in both engineering and the sciences in search of unique solutions to the unprecedented challenges our society will face in the years to come.

Selected Publications

McKahn, D.A. and Liu, X. Comparison of Two Models for Temperature Observation of Miniature PEM Fuel Cells Under Dry Conditions. IEEE Transactions on Industrial Electronics. Special Topic: Modeling, Diagnosis and Control of Fuel Cell Based Technologies, Vol 62, No 8, pgs 5283-5292, 2015.

McKahn, D.A. Influence of Gas Channel Depth in Self Humidified Miniature PEM Fuel Cells with Dead-Ended Anode. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, Vol 40, No 22, pgs 7168-7181, 2015.

McKay, D.A., Stefanopoulou, A.G., and Cook, J., A Controllable Membrane-Type Humidifier for Fuel Cell Applications, PART A: operation, modeling and experimental validation, Journal of Fuel Cell Science and Technology, Vol. 7, Issue 4, 2010.

McKay, D.A., Stefanopoulou, A.G., and Cook, J., A Controllable Membrane-Type Humidifier for Fuel Cell Applications, PART B: controller design, analysis and implementation, Journal of Fuel Cell Science and Technology, Vol. 7, Issue 4, 2010.

McKay, D.A., Siegel, J., Ott, W., Stefanopoulou, A., Parameterization and Prediction of Temporal Fuel Cell Voltage Behavior During Flooding and Drying Conditions. Journal of Power Sources, Vol. 178, No. 1, 2008.

Selected Honors and Awards

  • 2014, Distinguished Alumna of Automotive Research Center, University of Michigan
  • 2008 Doctor Bernard S. Baker Student Award for Fuel Cell Research
  • 2008, 2003 Best Presentation Award, IEEE American Control Conference
  • 2003 Homer Arnold Award, Humboldt State University, outstanding work in applied engineering


Hello Hydrogen Fuel Cells, Goodbye Batteries

Denise McKahn has her sights set on creating hydrogen fuel cells that perform more efficiently and are safer for the environment than lithium-ion batteries for powering small portable devices.