Skip to content


Our research examines the design and development of complex systems in their socio-technical context using a mixed methods approach. We have multiple ongoing projects focused on each of the technical system architecture, institutions and organizations that support design, and the interaction among the organization and the technical domain. This work has been funded by a variety of sources including NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense, the European Space Agency, the Toyota Mobility Foundation and MITRE Corporation.

Links to specific publications can be found below, organized by thematic area:

  • Complex System Design
  • Innovation Management
  • Acquisition Processes and Policy
  • Research Methodology

Innovation Management

AM Chaudhari, EL Gralla, Z Szajnfarber, JH Panchal (2022). "Co-Evolution of Communication and System Performance in Engineering Systems Design: A Stochastic Network-Behavior Dynamics Model" Journal of Mechanical Design. [Link]

Z Szajnfarber, TG Topcu, H Lifshitz-Assaf (2022). "Towards a solver-aware systems architecting framework: leveraging experts, specialists and the crowd to design innovative complex systems." Design Science. [Link

Vrolijk, A., Roman, M. and Szajnfarber, Z. (2021) " Mapping the Benefits from Innovation Contests" Research-Technology Management. [Link

Szajnfarber, Z., Groover, J. A., Wei, Z., Broniatowski, D. A.,  Chernicoff, W.,  and Helveston, J. P. (2021) “Evolvability analysis framework: Adding transition path and stakeholder diversity to infrastructure planning,” Systems Engineering. (Published online August 31, 2021) [Link]

Szajnfarber, Z., Zhang, L., Mukherjee, S., Crusan, J., Henning, A., and Vrolijk, A. (2020) "Who Is in the Crowd? Characterizing the Capabilities of Prize Competition Competitors" IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management [Link]

Szajnfarber, Z., Richards, M., & Weigel, A. (2018). Innovation dynamics in the defense space sector. Defense Innovation Handbook: Guidelines, Strategies, and Techniques, 353.

Szajnfarber, Z. and Vrolijk, A. (2018) "A facilitated expert-based approach to architecting "openable" complex systems". Systems Engineering (Early View). [Link] [Re-published in Best Papers of 2018 Special Issue – Top 10]

Bignon , I. and Szajnfarber, Z. (2015) "Technical Professionals' Identities in the R&D Context: Beyond the Scientist versus Engineer Dichotomy" IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 62(4), 517-528. [Link]

Vrolijk , A. and Szajnfarber, Z. (2015) "When Policy Structures Technology: Balancing upfront decomposition and in-process coordination in Europe's decentralized space technology ecosystem" Acta Astronautica, 106, 33-46 [Link]

Szajnfarber, Z. (2014). "Managing Innovation in Architecturally Hierarchical Systems: Three Switchback Mechanisms That Impact Practice" IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 61(4), 633-645 [Link]

Wicht , A. L. and Szajnfarber, Z., and (2014). "Portfolios of promise: a review of R&D investment techniques and how they apply to technology development in space agencies" Space Policy [Link]

Szajnfarber, Z., and Weigel, A. L. (2013). "Mechanisms of Innovation in the Space and Defense Sector: A Review" International Journal of Space Technology Management and Innovation, 3(1), 20-37 [Link]

Szajnfarber, Z., and Weigel, A. L. (2013). "A process model of technology innovation in governmental agencies: insights from NASA's science directorate" Acta Astronautica, 84(3-4), 56-68 [Link]

Szajnfarber, Z., and Weigel, A. L. (2012). "Managing Complex Technology Innovation: the need to move beyond stages and gates" International Journal of Space Technology Management and Innovation, 2(1), 30-48 [Link]

Szajnfarber, Z., and Weigel, A. L. (2010). "Towards an Empirical Measure of Spacecraft Innovation: The Case of Communication Satellites." Acta Astronautica, 66(7-8), 1266-1279 [Link]

Complex System Design

TG Topcu, S Mukherjee, A Hennig, Z Szajnfarber (2022). The dark side of modularity: how decomposing problems can increase system complexity. Journal of Mechanical Design. [Link]

Z Szajnfarber, N Joseph, E Gralla, (2023). When do Concurrent Design Facilities Need to be Flexible? Understanding the limits of fit with novel problem types.  Journal of Mechanical Design. [Link]

E Gralla, N Joseph, Z Szajnfarber, (2022). Fit As a Diagnostic Tool: An Analytic Review of Approaches to Measure Correspondence Between Technical and Organizational Architectures. Journal of Mechanical Design. [Link]

Szajnfarber, Z., Topcu, T., & Lifshitz-Assaf, H. (2022). Towards a solver-aware systems architecting framework: Leveraging experts, specialists and the crowd to design innovative complex systems. Design Science, 8, E10. doi:10.1017/dsj.2022.7 [Link]

Hennig, A., Topcu, T. G., and Szajnfarber, Z. (2021). "So You Think Your System Is Complex?: Why and How Existing Complexity Measures Rarely Agree." ASME. Journal of Mechanical Design, April 2022; 144(4): 041401. [Link]

Topcu, Taylan G., Mukherjee, S., Hennig, A. I., and Szajnfarber, Z. (2021) “The Dark Side of Modularity: How Decomposing Problems Can Increase System Complexity.” Journal of Mechanical Design, September, 1–53.  [Link]

Sapol, S.J., and Szajnfarber, Z. (2020) "Revisiting Flexibility in Design: An Analysis of the Impact of Implementation Uncertainty on the Value of Real Options." Journal of Mechanical Design (online). [Link] [Selected for JMD '20 Highlights at IDETC '21]

Gralla, E., and Szajnfarber, Z. (2016) "Characterizing Representational Uncertainty in System Design and Operations". Systems Engineering 19(6),535-548. [Link]

Szajnfarber, Z. Coles, T. M. K., Sondecker, G. R., Wicht, A. C, and Weigel A. L. (2011) "Moon-first versus flexible path exploration strategies: Considering international contributions" Space Policy, 27(3) [Link]

Acquisition Strategy

Sapol, S. and Szajnfarber, Z. (2021) " Flexibility "of" vs. "in" Systems: A Complimentary Strategy for Designing Fleet-Based Systems for Uncertainty." Journal of Mechanical Design. [Link]

du Jonchay, T.S., Chen, H., Wieger, A., Szajnfarber, Z., and Ho, K. (2020) "Space architecture design for commercial suitability: A case study in in-situ resource utilization systems." Acta Astronautica (online). [Link]

Brainard, S. and Szajnfarber, Z. (2018) "How government oversight adds time to contractor engineering work." Systems Engineering [Link]

Dwyer, M., Szajnfarber, Z., Cameron, B., and Crawley, E. (2018) "A model for understanding and managing cost growth on joint programs." Acta Astronautica (online). [Link]

Brainard, S., and Szajnfarber, Z. (2017) "Understanding the burden of government oversight on engineering work: Adding empirical data to the debate". Space Policy42, 70-80. [Link]

Pirtle, Z., Odenbaugh, J., Hamilton, A., and Szajnfarber, Z. (2017) "Engineering Model Independence: A Pluralist Strategy to Encourage Independence Among Models". Techné : Research in Philosophy and Technology. [Link]

Pirtle, Z., and Szajnfarber, Z. (2017) "On Ideals for Engineering in Democratic Societies". Philosophy and Engineering: Exploring Boundaries, Expanding Connections by D.P. Michelfelder, B. Newberry, and Q. Zhu, 99-112. Springer International Publishing. [Link]

Dwyer, M., Cameron, B., and Szajnfarber, Z. (2015) "A Framework for Studying Cost Growth on Complex Acquisition Programs" Systems Engineering 18(6), 568-583.[Link]

Szajnfarber, Z., McCabe, L. and Rohrbach, A. (2015) "Architecting Technology Transition Pathways: Insights from the Military Tactical Network Upgrade" Systems Engineering, 18(4), 377-395. [Link]

Szajnfarber, Z. (2014). "Space Science Innovation: How Mission Sequencing Interacts with Technology Policy" Space Policy, [Link]

Szajnfarber, Z., Richards, M. G. and Weigel, A. L., (2011) "Challenges to Innovation in the Government Space Sector" Defense Acquisition Review Journal, Issue 59 [Link]

Szajnfarber, Z., Stringfellow, M. V. and Weigel A. L., (2010) "The Impact of customer-contractor interactions on communication satellite innovation: insights from communication satellite history" Acta Astronautica, 67(9-10), 1306-1317 [Link]

Research Methodology

Szajnfarber, Z. and Broniatowski D. A. (2022) "Research Methods for Supporting Engineering Systems Design" Anja Maier et al. (Eds): Handbook of Engineering Systems Design. [Link]

Chaudhari, A., Gralla, E., Szajnfarber, Z., Grogan, P., and Panchal, J. (2020) "Designing Representative Model Worlds to Study Socio-Technical Phenomena: A Case Study of Communications Patterns in Engineering Systems Design." Journal of Mechanical Design (online). [Link]

Szajnfarber, Z., Grogan, P., Panchal, J., Gralla, E. (2020) "A call for consensus on the use of representative model worlds in systems engineering and design." Systems Engineering [Link]

Panchal, J. and Szajnfarber, Z. (2017) "Experiments in systems engineering and design research". Systems Engineering20(6), 529-541. [Link]

Szajnfarber, Z., and Gralla, E. (2017) "Qualitative methods for engineering systems: Why we need them and how to use them". Systems Engineering 20(6), 497-511. [Link] [Best Paper in Journal, 2017]

Szajnfarber, Z., and Herder, P. (2017) "Highlights from CESUN 2016: Contemporary Issues in methodological rigor for systems research". Systems Engineering (Editorial) 20(6) 481-482. [Link]


PDFs for all theses and dissertations, for which we retained copyright, can be found below:

  • Sapol, S. (2021) Change is Hard: Flexibility "of" as a Strategy to Mitigate Implementation Uncertainty in Design for Flexibility [PDF]
  • Pirtle, Z. (2020) Generative Independence: A Programmatic Analysis Framework for Complex Systems Engineering [PDF]
  • Brainard, S. (2018) The Impact of Government Oversight on Engineering Work: Insights from a Large Aerospace Contractor (Doctoral Dissertation) The George Washington University [PDF]
  • Cox, A. (2016) Functional Gain and Change Mechanisms in Post-Production Complex Systems (Doctoral Dissertation) The George Washington University [PDF]
  • Bignon, I. (2015) Scientists, Engineers, or Both? Motives and Preferences of Technical Professionals in Today's Scientific R&D Organizations (Doctoral Dissertation) The George Washington University. [PDF]
  • Szajnfarber, Z. (2011) Innovation Pathways in Technology Intensive Government Organizations: Insights from NASA (Doctoral Dissertation) Massachusetts Institute of Technology. [PDF]

Original Case Studies & Data

These unpublished cases capture the innovation pathways taken by particular space science technologies as they were matured, from conception to flight, within the NASA innovation system. Additional information can be found in the Dissertation.

  • Continuous Adiabatic Demagnetization Refrigerator (CADR) [pdf]
  • Cadmium Zinc Telluride Detector Array (CZT) [pdf]
  • Quantum Well Infrared Photodetector (QWIP) [pdf]
  • Semiconductor Thermistor Microcalorimeter [pdf]
  • Superconducting Transition Edge Sensor Microcalorimeter (TES) [pdf]
  • X-ray Polarimeter [pdf]

Within the context of researching similar technology developments within different organizational structures, a case study was completed with the European Space Agency context.

  • SRON's TES Microcalorimeter: A brief summary of its technological history [pdf]

GW is committed to digital accessibility. If you experience a barrier that affects your ability to access content on this page, let us know via the Accessibility Feedback Form.

Skip to toolbar