Karen Willcox

Aerospace engineer, computational scientist
Karen E. Willcox is director of the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin.

Why you should listen

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 is also external faculty at the Santa Fe Institute. A leading proponent of interdisciplinary computational education and research, she spent 17 years as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she served as the founding codirector of the MIT Center for Computational Engineering. Prior to joining academia, she worked at Boeing Phantom Works.

As a first-generation college student, Willcox is passionate about teaching, mentoring and educating the next generation of interdisciplinary problem solvers. Her research uses mathematics and physics to craft computational methods that enable engineers to be more effective. Her surrogate modeling methods allow complex simulations to be run in minutes instead of days, allowing engineers to explore more design options in search of higher performing, more environmentally-friendly designs. Her uncertainty quantification methods help engineers understand technical risks, leading to safer designs and more efficient design processes. Her work in developing scalable mathematical foundations for digital twins is leading to the next generation of intelligent computational tools that not only embed physical principles but also learn and adapt from data. She has collaborated with domain experts to apply these computational methods in settings that range from aircraft and rocket engines to community college educational pathways and cancer tumor modeling.

Karen Willcox’s TED talk