Michael Bernitsas

Mortimer E. Cooley Collegiate Professor of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering


212 NAME


(734) 764-9317


Additional Title(s)

  • Professor, Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering
  • Professor, Mechanical Engineering

“Mr. Bernitsas, anybody who has dealt with vortices has drowned.” That was the warning Professor Michael Bernitsas received from his professor after asking too many questions about underwater vortices. As an undergraduate at the National Technical University of Athens, he considered focusing his diploma thesis on the highly destructive force such vortices exert on flexible structures underwater. However, following his professor’s warning, he decided to pursue other research.

Four decades later, Professor Bernitsas has made a name for himself through studying these vortices and, in recent years, utilizing them to harness energy. Professor Bernitsas attended MIT as a PhD student in Ocean Engineering. He then accepted a position as a professor in U-M’s Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering department. Early in his career, he researched how vortex-induced vibrations affected underwater structures in offshore drilling. He was drawn to the field of offshore engineering because of its challenging nature.

“We’re not talking about just building the largest human-made structures, but we’re talking about launching and maintaining them in a harsh environment,” he says. “We’re talking about getting resources from 20 to 30 thousand feet below the sea bed. It’s an unimaginable, almost science fiction-like achievement.” In 2004, after gaining interest in using the ocean as a renewable energy source, he explored the potential to harness the energy he previously tried to suppress. He created and patented an invention called the VIVACE hydro energy device to generate energy in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way.

VIVACE, which stands for Vortex Induced Vibrations for Aquatic Clean Energy, in part mimics the movement of schools of fish, who often rely on the underwater vortices created by their fellow fish to propel forward and swim.

“The devices that we’re [currently] using to harness energy are all turbines, so they’re all based on water mills and propellers,” he says. “And that’s not the natural way of moving in the ocean.”

VIVACE’s design consists of two to four cylinders that oscillate synergistically up and down underwater, driven by the interaction between the cylinders and their wakes. The resulting hydrokinetic energy is converted into mechanical energy in the oscillating cylinders. The device functions even in slow-moving water, including rivers and ocean currents.

With guidance from the Office of Technology Transfer, Professor Bernitsas founded a company, Vortex Hydro Energy, to help design and sell the device. They are on track to build a prototype that could generate up to 50 kilowatts—enough to power several houses next to a river.

His appointment as director of the Marine Renewable Energy Lab and the VIVACE project provide Professor Bernitsas with a full workload, which he enjoys.

“I have my hands full and my intellectual curiosity challenged, so I’m happy,” he says with a smile.

And, with no signs of drowning thus far, he will keep studying vortices without any fear.


  • Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1979), Ocean Engineering
  • SM, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1977), Ocean Engineering
  • SM, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1977), Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering
  • Diploma, National Technical University of Athens (1975), Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering and Mechanical Engineering

Research Interests

Hydrokinetic energy conversion, enhancement of high-damping, high-Reynolds flow-induced motion, suppression of vortex-induced vibrations. marine riser mechanics, mooring system dynamics.

Research areas:
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Recently Taught

  • NA 310 – Ship Strength I
  • NA 321 – Marine Hydrodynamics II
  • NA 340 – Marine Dynamics I
  • NA 474 – Optimization and Numerical Methods in Marine Design
  • NA 500 – Engineering Analysis in the Marine Environment
  • NA 518 – Reliabilities of Marine Structures
  • NA 550 – Offshore Engineering Analysis
  • NA 550 – Offshore Engineering I: Slender body hydrodynamics
  • NA 522/NA 621 – Experimental Marine Hydrodynamics
  • NA 650 – Dynamics of Offshore Facilities
  • NA 655 – Special Topics in Offshore Engineering


  • Bernitsas, M. M., “Harvesting Energy by Flow Included Motions”, (2016) Chapter 47, Springer Handbook of Ocean Engineering, Editors: Dhanak, M. R., Xiros, N. I., Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg ; ISBN 978-3-319-16648-3; pp. 1163-1244.
  • Sun, H., Ma, C., Kim, E. S., Nowakowski G., Mauer, E., Bernitsas, M.M., (2017) “Hydrokinetic Energy Conversion by two Rough Tandem-Cylinders in Flow Induced Motions: Effect of Spacing and Stiffness”, Renewable Energy, pp. 61-80.
  • Sun, H., Kim, E.S., Nowakowski, G., Erik Mauer, E., Bernitsas, M.M., (2016) “Effect of Mass-Ratio, Damping, and Stiffness on Optimal Hydrokinetic Energy Conversion of a Single, Rough Cylinder in Flow Induced Motions”, Renewable Energy, Vol. 99, 936-959.
  • Kim, E. S. and Bernitsas, M. M., (2016) “Performance prediction of horizontal hydrokinetic energy converter using synergy of multiple cylinders in flow-induced motion”, Applied Energy 170 (2016) 92–100.
  • Bernitsas, M.M., Sun, H., Mauer, E., Nowakowski, G., (2016) “Synergistic Flow Induced Motion of Two Cylinders Harvesting Marine Hydrokinetic Energy”, Marine Energy Technology Symposium, METS-2016, Washington, DC, April 25-27.
  • Ding, L., Zhang L., Kim E.S., Bernitsas, M.M., (2015) “2D-URANS vs. Experiments of Flow-Induced Motions of Multiple Circular Cylinders with Passive Turbulence Control”, Journal of Fluids and Structures, Vol. 54, pp. 612-628.
  • Bernitsas M.M., Raghavan K., (2013) “Converter of Current, Tide, or Wave Energy”, European Patent Office, Patent# EP 1 812 709 B1 issued on April 17, 2013.
  • Raghavan, K., Bernitsas, M. M. (2011) “Experimental Investigation of Reynolds Number Effect on Vortex-Induced Vibration of Rigid Cylinder on Elastic Supports,” Ocean Engineering, Vol.38, #5-6, April 2011, pp.719-731.
  • Bernitsas M.M., Raghavan K., (2009) “Fluid Motion Energy Converter”, United States Patent and Trademark Office, Patent# 7,493,759 B2 issued on Feb. 24, 2009.
  • Bernitsas M.M., Ben-Simon Y., Raghavan K., Garcia E. M. H., (2006) “The VIVACE Converter: Model Tests at Reynolds Numbers Around 105”, OMAE 2006; and J. of Offshore Mechanics and Arctic Engineering, ASME Trans, Feb. 2009, Vol. 131, No. 1, pp. 1-13.
  • Bernitsas M.M., Raghavan K., Ben-Simon Y., Garcia E. M. H., (2006) “VIVACE (Vortex Induced Vibration Aquatic Clean Energy): A New Concept in Generation of Clean and Renewable Energy from Fluid Flow”, OMAE 2006; and Journal of Offshore Mechanics and Arctic Engineering, ASME Transactions, Nov. 2008, Vol. 130, No. 4, pp. 041101-15.
  • Park, H. R., R. A. Kumar, Bernitsas, M. M., (2013) “Enhancement of Flow-Induced Motions of Rigid Circular Cylinder on Springs by Localized Surface Roughness at 3×104≤Re≤ 1.2×105”, Ocean Engineering, Vol. 72, Pages 403-415.
  • M.M. Bernitsas, J.P. Matsuura, (2009) “Revealing Nonlinear Dynamics Phenomena in Mooring Due to Slowly Varying Drift,” Journal of Offshore Mechanics and Arctic Engineering, ASME Transactions, Vol. 131, No. 4, Oct.
  • Foulhoux, L. and M.M. Bernitsas, (1993) “Forces and Moments on a Small Body Moving in a 3-D Unsteady Flow,” Journal of Offshore Mechanics and Arctic Engineering, ASME Transactions, Vol. 115, No. 2, May 1993, pp. 91-104.
  • M.M. Bernitsas and T. Kokkinis, (1983) “Buckling of Risers in Tension due to Internal Pressure: Non-movable Boundaries,” Journal of Energy Resources Technology, ASME Trans.,Vol. 105, No. 3, Sept. 1983, pp. 277-281.


  • Blakely-Smith Medal, 2003, for “Outstanding Accomplishment in Ocean Engineering,” awarded once every two years by SNAME to a member or nonmember of the Society.
  • University of Minnesota, Warren Lecture Series, Civil Engineering Department, February 14, 2011; “Enhancement of Flow Induced Motions for Harnessing Hydrokinetic Energy in an Environmentally Compatible Way”
  • Distinguished Energy Lecture Series, Center for Clean Energy Engineering, University of Connecticut, November 11, 2010; “Enhancement of Flow Induced Motions for Harnessing Hydrokinetic Energy in an Environmentally Compatible Way”
  • Keynote Speaker, World Ocean Forum 2008, Busan, Korea, November 12-13, 2008. “The VIVACE Converter”, G. Simiao, M.M. Bernitsas, Hong Kong Univ. of Science & Technology, Hong Kong, PRC, Final Round Present., 2nd Place, May 5, 2007.
  • World’s Best Technology 2006; for the VIVACE Converter of Ocean/River current kinetic energy to electricity.
  • Offshore Mechanics and Arctic Engineering Conference Special Appreciation/Service Award, ASME International, June 2005.
  • Ocean, Offshore and Arctic Engineering Division Special Achievement/Service Award, ASME International, June 2004
  • Best Paper Award, ASME, OOAE Division 2002, [paper 68]
  • Keynote Speaker, IMAM 2002, Crete, Greece, May 2002 [paper 103]
  • Division Achievement Award, OOAE of ASME International, February 2000
  • Keynote Plenary Session Speaker, MEET 1999, St. Petersburg, Russia, June 1999 [paper 70]
  • Fellow ASME, 1998-
  • Fellow SNAME, 1998-
  • Research Award, Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, 1993
  • Outstanding Instructor for Fall 1990, ADVICE Magazine, U of M Student Assembly
  • Distinguished Service Award of Class of 1938E of the College of Engineering of the University of Michigan, 1984
  • Outstanding Young Men of America, 1983
  • Faculty Research Fellowship, Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, 1980
  • SNAME Doctoral Student Research Award, 1978
  • Sigma Xi, The North America Research Society, 1977