caltech aerospace engineering

Last Updated on December 15, 2022 by

The research at the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories of the California Institute of Technology (GALCIT) has evolved to include biosystems engineering, however, the tradition of integrating basic experiments, theory, and simulations over a broad range of spatial and temporal scales continues to characterize our approach.

Our faculty highly visible in their fields, and continue to garner numerous awards. GALCIT contains unparalleled experimental facilities in solids, fluids, biomechanics, propulsion, combustion, and materials, as well as unique large-scale computational capabilities.

Our educational emphasis is on the fundamentals and advanced diagnostics, with a view toward the future: bio-inspired engineering, micro- and nano-mechanics, space science, and space technology are all current research thrusts at GALCIT. We take an interdisciplinary view of mechanics—fluids, solids, and materials—and our graduate training reflects this.


The mission of the Aerospace department (GALCIT) at Caltech is to address fundamental problems that could lead to transformative science and technology in Aerospace and related fields by educating and training future leaders for academia, government and industry.

To this end, we focus on:

  • providing state-of-the-art education focusing on fundamentals in mechanics (fluids, propulsion, materials, structures, space).
  • excelling in research training of students and postdoctoral scholars.
  • creating an environment that fosters independent, innovative and interdisciplinary thinking.
  • developing and maintaining infrastructure including advanced laboratory facilities to support research that will lead to cutting-edge technologies in aerospace and other related fields.
  • being the focal point at Caltech for promoting collaboration with aerospace industry and government laboratories.

Subject Minor

A student majoring in a field other than aerospace may, with the approval of the option representative, elect aerospace as a subject minor. A minimum of 54 units in subjects acceptable to the aerospace faculty is required.

Problem and Grievance Resolution within Aerospace

Students may pursue several avenues for redress concerning personal and academic problems that may arise during their residency, as outlined by the Student Problem Resolution Process described earlier in the catalog. Should a student not wish to discuss the relevant issues with their adviser, the option representative and/or the director are always available to meet with the student. In addition, two other resources are available, one at the student and one at the faculty level. The student representative is elected annually by the aerospace graduate students at or after the Information Session, which is part of Ae 150 a. In the event that the student representative has completed his or her Ph.D. studies before the election date and left the Institute, the student organizer for Ae 150 may be his or her replacement. A faculty member chosen by the aerospace faculty to provide support for the students is available for student contact. The names of the current student and faculty support persons are available in the aerospace office.

Aims and Scope of the Graduate Program

The Institute offers graduate programs in aerospace leading to the degrees of Master of Science in, Aerospace Engineer, and Doctor of Philosophy in Aeronautics or Space Engineering. The programs are designed to provide intense education in the foundations of the aeronautical and space sciences, with emphasis on research and analytical, computational, and experimental methods. Entering graduate students should have a thorough background in undergraduate mathematics, physics, and engineering science. Applicants for graduate study are also required to submit Graduate Record Examination scores with their applications.

In working for a degree in aerospace, a student may pursue major study in one of the following areas: physics of fluids, physics of solids and mechanics of materials, structural mechanics, space technology, computational solid mechanics, computational and theoretical fluid dynamics, aeronautical engineering and propulsion, biomechanics of fluids and solids, technical fluid mechanics, control of aerospace systems and materials.

While research and course work in the aerospace option at the Institute cover a very broad range of subjects, a choice of one of the above fields allows students to focus their activities while taking advantage of the flexibility offered by the breadth of interests of the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories (GALCIT). A student with an interest in energy-related subjects will find many suitable courses and research projects of particular use. Subjects of major importance in the efficient use of energy, such as turbulent mixing, drag reduction, and flexible lightweight structures, have historically been the focus of research activity in the aerospace option.

In consultation with his or her adviser, a student will design a program of study in one of the above fields, consisting of the fundamental courses prescribed in the regulations for the separate degrees listed below, and of electives selected from the list of aerospace-related courses.

Examinations, Committees, and Student Responsibilities

To help the student achieve satisfactory progress in his or her academic pursuits, the aerospace faculty provides for the following committee and individual support.

Upon beginning the first year of the aerospace program, each student is assigned a faculty (course) adviser whose research field matches the interests of the student as described in the student’s statement of purpose in his or her admissions application. In order to pursue studies beyond the master’s degree and toward the degree of PhD, a student has to select and be accepted by a research adviser. Students wishing to pursue studies leading to the Ph.D. must select and be accepted by a research adviser and are required to pass a qualifying examination in the first term of the second year

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