Department of Engineering Science


Karen Willcox

Bachelor of Engineering in Engineering Science (1994)

Photograph of Karen Willcox

Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics (2012)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA


Maths was my favourite subject in high school. I chose Engineering Science because it sounded like a good way to pursue maths in a practical setting. After finishing my BE, I went to the USA and completed a masters degree and PhD in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT. The topic of my PhD was to create computational methods for analysing fluid-structure interaction in the blades of aircraft engines. I also had the opportunity to work at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center for three months.

After finishing my PhD, I worked at Boeing Phantom Works for one year with the Blended- Wing-Body (BWB) team. The BWB is a revolutionary concept for future aircraft. At Boeing, I worked on methods to use optimisation in aircraft design. It was very exciting to be working with a small, fast-paced design team on cutting-edge technologies.

In 2001 I returned to MIT and joined the faculty in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. As a faculty member, I maintain a research programme and teach undergraduate and graduate classes. My current research projects include collaborations with Boeing, NASA, FAA, Sandia National Laboratories, Pratt and Whitney, and the Air Force, as well as researchers at other universities.

The main focus of my research is to develop new methods for computational design, with applications in aircraft design, environmental impact of aviation, astronaut performance, and real-time decision-making. My activities range from mathematical methodology development to research driven by these applications.

I really enjoy the diversity of my responsibilities as well as the intellectual freedom that my job offers. As an academic, I have many opportunities to interact with industry partners and work on “real” projects, as well as to participate in important committees that shape the future of the aerospace sector.

Engineering Science was a fantastic undergraduate program that gave me a very strong basis in many of the fundamental mathematical and computational skills that I continue to use every day.