karen willcox announcement web2

The Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics (ASE/EM) is pleased to announce that Karen E. Willcox has joined the Cockrell School of Engineering faculty as a tenured professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics this fall.

Willcox has also been named the new director of the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences (ICES) at The University of Texas at Austin and will hold the W.A. "Tex" Moncrief Jr. Endowment in Simulation-Based Engineering and Sciences Chair No. 5. She succeeds J. Tinsley Oden, who has served as ICES director since its founding in 2003.

Before joining UT Austin, Willcox was a professor and associate head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the founding co-director of the MIT Center for Computational Engineering.

"I am thrilled to join Texas ASE/EM as a professor at a time when there are many exciting new opportunities at the interfaces of computation, mathematics, science, engineering and medicine,” Willcox said. “I very much look forward to working with UT’s administration and the ASE/EM and ICES communities of faculty, students, staff and alumni as we embark on exciting new endeavors in research and education."

An accomplished aerospace engineer and computational scientist, Willcox focuses her research on aerospace system design, uncertainty quantification, design optimization, reduced order modeling and data-driven modeling. Some of her recent research projects include developing methods and algorithms that enable on-board dynamic decision-making for UAVs, modeling rocket combustor dynamics and developing new design under uncertainty methods for Blended-Wing-Body aircraft design.

She is co-director of the Department of Energy DiaMonD Multifaceted Mathematics Capability Center on Mathematics at the Interfaces of Data, Models and Decisions, she  leads an Air Force MURI on optimal design of multi-physics systems and she leads an Air Force Data-Driven Dynamic Applications Systems project team that is developing a self-aware UAV. She has co-authored more than 90 papers in peer-reviewed journals and advised more than 40 graduate students, including 16 Ph.D. students.

In addition to her research pursuits, Willcox has taken an active role in multidisciplinary graduate and undergraduate education in both aerospace engineering and computational engineering. She has served in numerous educational leadership roles at MIT including Chair of the MIT OpenCourseWare Faculty Advisory Board, co-Chair of the MIT Online Education Policy Initiative and co-Chair of the 2013-2014 Institute wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education. She is a recognized innovator in the U.S. education landscape, where she is a 2015 recipient of the First in the World Department of Education grant, leading the Fly-by-Wire project to develop a blended learning technology in collaboration with community colleges in Colorado and Massachusetts.

Willcox earned a Bachelor of Engineering degree from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and a master’s and Ph.D. from MIT, where she served on the faculty since 2001.

She took some time to answer a few questions for us about her reasons for joining UT Austin, her research and what she enjoys doing in her free time.

What attracted you to UT Austin?

ICES is a remarkable place with a remarkable set of people—there is no question that ICES is a world-leading institute and I am extremely privileged to have the chance to lead ICES into the future. But I have also been inspired by the vision that President Fenves and Provost McInnis have for UT Austin as a whole. I am inspired by the commitment to high-quality education at such large scale—a truly important thing for the nation—and by the connections between UT and the local Texas community. I am looking forward to contributing to that vision as an ASE/EM faculty member.

What do you enjoy most about your field of research?

I am passionate about all things aerospace—our field has changed the world and will do so even more in the coming decades. I love that my research is interdisciplinary, at the intersections of applied math, computation and aerospace engineering. The aerospace applications are truly inspiring, but at the same time, the mathematical aspects are elegant and intellectually intriguing. And the most enjoyable part of my job is working with and mentoring the amazing young people that aerospace engineering attracts.

What are your favorite hobbies?

I love trail-running, mountaineering, eating good food and hunting Pokémon with my children.

Learn more about Dr. Willcox on her website at kiwi.ices.utexas.edu