Research Areas


Setting GALCIT apart from others are our unrivaled experimental facilities in fluids, solids, materials, biomechanics, propulsion, and combustion; our exceptional faculty; our rigorous graduate student training; and our emphasis on the basics. We also maintain close connections to industry and government labs. An extremely broad range of research is done by the professors in GALCIT, their colleagues, and students.

The GALCIT faculty maintain strong connections with colleagues throughout the Division, the Institute, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Our faculty collaborate with colleagues from Mechanical and Civil Engineering, Applied Physics and Materials Science, Computing and Mathematical Sciences, Bioengineering, Geology and Planetary Sciences, and JPL. Research in Biological Fluid Dynamics is carried out by GALCIT faculty and colleagues throughout Caltech.

Physics of Fluids

Fluid dynamics as a discipline is as much a part of physics as of engineering. Physics of fluids refers to research in areas closer to applied physics than to direct technical applications. Present active research includes studies in gas dynamics and hypervelocity flows, diffraction and focusing of shock waves, detonation waves, shock-induced Rayleigh-Taylor and Richtmeyer-Meshkov instabilities, transient supersonic jets, the development of laser-scattering diagnostic techniques for fluid flow measurements, the study of structures and mechanics in transition and turbulence, studies of two-phase flows and turbulent mixing and experimental manipulation and control of wall-bounded flows for improved flow characteristics, such as reduction of drag, noise, and structural loading.

Physics of Solids and Mechanics of Materials

Mechanics of materials research involves both the quasi-static and dynamic characterization of the mechanical behavior and failure of solids. In order to understand materials for applications in a wide range of structures germane to aerospace as well as other engineering disciplines, both the physical foundations of that behavior and the mathematical or numerical representation of such behavior needs to be understood. Accordingly, studies involve material response at both the macroscopic (continuum) scales and the micro- and nanoscales. Of interest are the typical engineering metals, multiphase (composite) materials, polymers and ceramics, thin film materials used in microelectronic and optoelectronic applications, soft tissue mechanics of materials, and active materials used in structural actuation and controls. Other areas of active research include the study of highly nonlinear dynamics in solids, multiscale acoustic metamaterials, and nondestructive evaluation/structural health monitoring of structures.

Aerospace Autonomous Systems and Technologies

Interdisciplinary research in the expanding area of autonomous systems involves, but is not limited to, drones, robots, and spacecraft for use in science, exploration, and transportation. The research addresses sensing, control, vision, machine learning, and other emerging areas. Advanced drone research, autonomous exploration, and swarm robotics will draw research from the full range of engineering at Caltech, the geological and planetary sciences division, and JPL.

Computational and Theoretical Mechanics

Computational solid mechanics addresses phenomena ranging from the atomistic scale, e.g., nanoindentation, to the structural scale, e.g., fracture of aircraft or spacecraft components, modeling of large space structures or even dynamic fragmentation phenomena accompanying hypervelocity impact. It provides an indispensable tool for understanding the relation between structure and mechanical properties of materials, for predicting the efficiency of such industrial processes as machining and metal forming, and for assessing the safety of such structures as airplanes, spacecraft, automobiles, and bridges. The goals and objectives of this activity are to provide a state-of-the-art environment for the development of numerical methods in solid mechanics, to provide the computational resources required for large-scale simulations in solid mechanics, and to serve as an instructional facility for advanced courses.

Many of the fluid dynamics phenomena studied experimentally at GALCIT are also being investigated by numerical simulation and by theoretical analysis. Present active research areas in computational and theoretical techniques include direct numerical simulation, particle methods for flow simulation, new algorithms and subgridscale models for compressible and incompressible flows, largeeddy simulation methods, flows with shocks and driven by shocks, analytical and computational techniques for turbulence structure diagnostics, analysis of turbulent mixing dynamics, high-explosive interactions with deformable boundaries, and detailed chemical reaction kinetics in flames and detonations.


The kinematics and dynamics of fluid flows in biological systems are studied in experiments, numerical simulations, and theoretical analyses. These flows are often characterized by unsteady vortex dynamics, coupled fluid interactions with flexible material surfaces, non-Newtonian fluid behavior, and, in some cases, compressibility. Areas of active research include animal swimming and flying, cardiovascular fluid dynamics and hemodynamics, the mechanics of morphing/ active deformable surfaces for flow control, and biologically inspired design of engineering systems.

Space Technology

The goal of industrial utilization and exploration of space requires that one addresses a wide range of engineering problems. Examples of research activities include lightweight structures for large aperture systems, in-space manufacturing, material and structural behavior in extreme temperature and radiation environments, spacecraft shielding against hypervelocity impact threats, the mechanics of sample containment for planetary protection, low-g biomechanics, biomimetics of locomotion in planetary atmospheres, hypersonic reentry into planetary atmospheres, in-space propulsion, guidance, navigation and control, and launch-vehicle performance and safety. Opportunities exist for research in collaboration with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.