Back to Faculty Directory
Photo of Willcox, Karen E.
Office Location: POB 4.102

Karen E. Willcox

Director of the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences

W.A. "Tex" Moncrief Jr. Endowment in Simulation-Based Engineering and Sciences Chair No. 5
Peter O'Donnell, Jr. Centennial Chair in Computing Systems

Department Research Areas:
Computational Engineering

Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Research Interests:

  • Data to decisions in engineering systems
  • Digital twins
  • Computational models and methods for design, optimization, control and uncertainty quantification of engineering systems
  • Reduced-order modeling, multi-fidelity modeling, scientific machine learning
  • Future aircraft technologies, aircraft system optimization, aircraft environmental impact, multidisciplinary design, unmanned aerial vehicles

Karen E. Willcox is Director of the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, Associate Vice President for Research, and Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at the University of Texas at Austin. She holds the W. A. “Tex” Moncrief, Jr. Chair in Simulation-Based Engineering and Sciences and the Peter O'Donnell, Jr. Centennial Chair in Computing Systems. Prior to joining the Oden Institute in 2018, she spent 17 years as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she served as Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the founding Co-Director of the MIT Center for Computational Engineering, and the Associate Head of the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. She is also an External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute. Willcox holds a Bachelor of Engineering Degree from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and masters and PhD degrees from MIT. Prior to becoming a professor at MIT, she worked at Boeing Phantom Works with the Blended-Wing-Body aircraft design group.

In 2022, Willcox was elected to the National Academy of Engineering "for contributions to computational engineering methods for the design and optimal control of high-dimensional systems with uncertainties." In 2017, she was awarded Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for services to aerospace engineering and education. In 2016, she was awarded a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Auckland. Her professional accomplishments have been recognized through her election as a Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and a Fellow of the US Association for Computational Mechanics (USACM). She is the recipient of the 2023 USACM J.T. Oden Medal. Her students and postdoctoral researchers have been recognized with many awards over the years, including multiple best paper and best student paper awards.

Willcox is active in national service and leadership roles. She currently serves as a member of the Department of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, an elected member of the AIAA Board of Trustees, co-chair of the National Academies Board on Mathematical Sciences and Analytics, vice-chair of the Institute for Mathematical and Statistical Innovation (IMSI) Board of Advisors, a member of the Advisory Board for the Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) program at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and an elected member of the Executive Council of the International Association for Computational Mechanics (IACM). She has served on six National Academies studies and review panels, including two current studies: the National Academies Study on Post-Exascale Computing for the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the National Academies Study on Foundational Research Gaps and Future Directions for Digital Twins, for which she serves as chair. She has served on multiple visiting committee and university review panels, including serving as the current chair of the Committee to Visit Harvard University Information Technology. Willcox has served in multiple other leadership positions, including co-chair of the NSF Advisory Committee on Cyberinfrastructure, Vice-Chair and Program Director of the SIAM Activity Group on Computational Science and Engineering, Program Director of the SIAM Activity Group on Data Science, and Chair of the AIAA Multidisciplinary Design Optimization Technical Committee. She is formerly Section Editor of SIAM Journal on Scientific Computing and current Editorial Board member of AIAA Journal, Acta Numerica, IEEE Computing in Science and Engineering (CiSE), Journal on Data Centric Engineering, Computer Methods in Applied Mechanics and Engineering, and International Journal of Computational Methods in Engineering Science and Mechanics.

Willcox's research has produced scalable computational methods for design of next-generation engineered systems, with a particular focus on reduced-order modeling as a way to learn principled physics-based approximations from data, multifidelity formulations to leverage multiple sources of information in decision-making and uncertainty quantification, and scalable methods for predictive digital twins. Her model reduction and multifidelity methods are widely applied across the scientific and engineering community, and have been incorporated into industry/government codes for aircraft system design and environmental policy decision-making. She currently has funded projects supported by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Air Force Research Laboratory, DARPA, Department of Energy, NASA, and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Willcox currently leads several multi-institution research teams: she is Co-director of the Department of Energy M2dt Multifaceted Mathematics Capability Center on Multifaceted Mathematics for Predictive Digital Twins; she leads an Air Force MURI team on Machine Learning for Physics-based Systems; and she leads the Rise of the Machines team developing robust, interpretable, scalable, efficient methods for digital twins under the Department of Energy AI and Decision Support for Complex Systems program. Willcox has co-authored more than 130 papers in peer-reviewed journals and advised 55 graduate students, including 23 PhD students.

In addition to her research pursuits, Willcox is active in education innovation. She served as co-Chair of the MIT Online Education Policy Initiative, co-Chair of President Rafael Reif's 2013-2014 Institute wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education, and Chair of the MIT OpenCourseWare Faculty Advisory Board. She is a recognized innovator in the U.S. education landscape, where she was a 2015 recipient of a First in the World Department of Education grant that developed and deployed educational technologies in community colleges. She continues to direct the Mapping Lab, which develops technologies for the future of digital education.

Related Websites
Recent Awards and Honors