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Karen E. Willcox SM '96, PhD '00

Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics 

Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics 

Karen E. Willcox SM '96, PhD '00
Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Co-director, Center for Computational Engineering
Co-director, DiaMonD Center

Dr. Willcox joined the MIT faculty in 2001 and her research work focuses on reduced-order modeling, uncertainty quantification, multidisciplinary design optimization, aircraft system design and data to decisions in aerospace systems.

Dr. Willcox chaired a working group on the future of education at MIT.  She also initiated a project on the mapping of learning outcomes across the undergraduate curriculum at MIT beginning with the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.  Another project mapped the mathematics skills required for the core undergraduate curriculum in Aero/Astro and where to acquire those skills in the Mathematics Department. 

Dr. Willcox is a two time finalist in the NASA astronaut selection. She is originally from Aukland, New Zealand and received the Sir Peter Blake Leadership Award in 2010.   She holds a bachelors degree from the University of Aukland and she earned her Master of Science and PhD degrees at MIT.


Highlights of this interview include:

  • Growing up in Aukland, New Zealand she loved math in school and had a fascination with aircraft and aerospace. Saw Star Wars as a child and it is her favorite movie.
  • Adjusting to the move from New Zealand to MIT and Cambridge.
  • How playing rugby at MIT helped her integrate into the MIT culture. Living in the graduate student dorm helped with her support network.  Met her husband at the Muddy Charles.
  • Took up mountaineering while working as a summer intern at NASA Dryden in Calfornia.
  • Came back to MIT for a Ph.D because she could not get an aerospace job without US citizenship.
  • Applied for astronaut selection after her Ph.D. and while on the MIT faculty.  She got US citizenship after her marriage.
  • Work on the environmental impact of designing aircraft for the future including the Boeing Blended Wing Body.
  • What is it that makes education at MIT so special? The commitment to hands on education and students interest in interdisciplinary topics.
  • The role mentors played in her life and her responsibility to mentor her students.
  • The Sir Peter Blake Trust helps her stay connected to New Zealand.
  • Desire to see humans back on the moon and going to Mars in the future

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