PhD in Aerospace Engineering

Doctor of Philosophy
Student and a professor walking in the lab

The PhD in Aerospace Engineering at WPI gives you the tools, facilities, and support to lead independent research and advance your professional capabilities into the technology and the science of aircraft and spacecraft. The degree program is flexible and offers both full-time and part-time options so you can earn your degree while keeping up with your current responsibilities.

Our innovative and involved faculty contribute to aerospace research and currently have research under way in fluids and propulsion, dynamics and control, and materials and structure. You’ll work closely with faculty to find your best path and contribute to high-level research projects as well as developing your own body of work.

Student at lecture while professor writes on chalkboard


You can apply for the PhD in aerospace engineering with a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, with the bachelor’s degree requiring a longer course of study to completion of the PhD degree. The course work requires several aerospace engineering courses; graduate seminars; and proposal, completion, and defense of a dissertation. Our faculty will help you match your research interests to your professional goals so you can launch right into a career upon graduation.

Students may use these academic planners to help determine their credits:

Research for Aerospace Engineering PhD

The Aerospace Engineering PhD program allows candidates the opportunity to delve deep into original research they are particularly passionate about. Our expert faculty invite collaboration and innovation in our classrooms and state-of-the-art labs to advance aerospace engineering research.

Recent research projects:

  • Intelligent algorithms placed on board UAVs to assist remote military and civilian pilots and lead to improved operational safety
  • Investigation of ignition and flame propagation enhancement by plasma assisted technologies to contribute to developing modern combustion-based energy conversion devices with higher efficiency and lower emissions

Aerospace engineering students work closely with faculty to gain mastery in the fundamentals of aerospace engineering and a strong technical competency in modern aerospace components and systems.

The world is our lab. Through coursework and research, students develop technical and scientific skills to solve real-world problems.

Collaborative, hands-on project work means many great minds use their knowledge to achieve better solutions.

A degree in aerospace engineering can lead to careers in academia, industry, and business.

WPI’s aerospace engineering facilities are extensive and well funded by government partners. Researchers have access to the latest equipment and enjoy an open and encouraging atmosphere.

Our labs:

  • Aerodynamics Test Facility
  • Computational Fluid and Plasma Dynamics Laboratory
  • CubeSat Ground Operations Room
  • Fluid Dynamics Laboratory
  • Fluid and Plasma Dynamics Laboratory
  • Micro Fluid and Plasma Dynamics Laboratory
  • Systems and Robot Control Laboratory
  • Vacuum Test Facility

Faculty Profiles

David J. Olinger
Associate Professor, Aerospace Engineering

In my teaching I bring fluid and aerodynamics experiments, including wind tunnels, into the classroom each day. Fundamental concepts are demonstrated in these experiments, and collected data is immediately compared to the theory and equations learned during lecture. Students see that they can use what they are learning in class to predict the behavior of aerospace systems. They then go on to design improved systems in MQP projects and during their careers.

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Michael A. Demetriou

Professor Demetriou is very active with the Controls and Systems research community. He served as an Associate Editor in the IEEE Tr. on Automatic Control (2004-2007), in the ASME Journal of Dynamic Systems, Measurement, and Control (2009-2011), and in SIAM J. Control and Optimization (2009-present). He is also serving in the IEEE-Control Systems Society Conference Editorial Board as an Associate Editor (1997-present). In 2003 he established the IEEE-CSS Technical Committee on Distributed Parameter Systems and served as his first chair (2003-2012).

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Nikolaos A. Gatsonis
Professor & Department Head- Aerospace Engineering, Aerospace Engineering

Nikolaos A. Gatsonis received an undergraduate degree in Physics at the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, Greece (1983), an M.S. in Atmospheric Science at the University of Michigan (1996), an M.S. (1987) and a Ph.D.

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Raghvendra V. Cowlagi
Associate Professor, Aerospace Engineering

Autonomous vehicles – aircraft, cars, rovers, over- and underwater vehicles that can move in the real world by themselves without human pilotage – have gained immense importance not only due to the broad spectrum of their potential military and civilian applications, but also due to the concurrent development of sensor technology and embedded systems that enable the realization of true autonomy.

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John J. Blandino
Associate Professor, Aerospace Engineering

Prior to joining the faculty at WPI in 2001, I was a Senior Staff Engineer in the Advanced Propulsion Technology Group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). My research at JPL included application of plasma sources for materials processing and the development of pulsed plasma and small-scale hydrazine thrusters. In the mission support area, I worked as the propulsion engineer for the Deep Space 3 Interferometer and Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) missions.

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Jagannath Jayachandran
Assistant Professor, Aerospace Engineering

My research is aimed towards understanding fundamental aspects of reacting flows at thermodynamic conditions of relevance to aircraft, rocket, and automobile propulsion. Reacting flow phenomena occurring in engines are complicated as a result of turbulent flow, interaction with solid boundaries, and extreme thermodynamic conditions. In order to understand and simulate combustion phenomena under such conditions, there is a necessity to develop accurate chemical kinetic and molecular transport models in addition to fluid mechanics models.

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Nikhil Karanjgaokar
Assistant Professor, Aerospace Engineering

Prior to joining the faculty at WPI in August 2015, I worked as a post-doctoral research associate at Graduate Aerospace Laboratories at California Institute of Technology. My research at Caltech focused on the development of a Granular Element Method (GEM) based force visualization technique for the study of 2D granular systems under impact loading. I examined of the role of granular fabric on the wave motion and formation of force chains in granular media.

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Explore Alternative PhD Paths

Are you intrigued by evaluating design and engineering principles, but prefer to be on land? With a PhD in mechanical engineering you can use your creative talents to produce devices closer to home, for businesses, houses, and more. As a student in our PhD program, you’ll have the opportunity to lead breakthrough research alongside world-renowned WPI faculty and work to solve problems that support real industry partners.

Pursue a Master’s in Aerospace Engineering First

Do you first need to earn your master’s degree? Here at WPI, we offer a flexible part or full time master’s in aerospace engineering perfect for students who have other obligations. Our MS covers topics like turbomachinery, spacecraft propulsion, and more to encourage students to simulate their creativity into practice. Our one-on-one faculty mentorship empowers students to gain technical expertise in modern aerospace from industry experts.

Just Starting Your Career? Reach Sky High Limits with a Bachelor's.

If you have aspirations to become an aerospace engineer, flight technician, or even a design engineer, be sure to set yourself up for success with a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering. As an undergraduate student you’ll have exposure to the technical tools to learn about aircraft design, astronautics, and more. Maybe you’re intrigued by airplanes and rockets, but aren’t sure you want to major in aerospace engineering? Consider gaining a fundamental understanding of aircraft with our minor in aerospace engineering.