Sheila E. Widnall

Sheila E. Widnall
Sheila E. Widnall
Tacoma, WA, USA
Fields of study


Born in Tacoma, Washington on 13 July, 1938, Dr. Widnall has experienced many firsts in her distinguished career. She was the first female Secretary of the Air Force, served as Associate Provost, and first woman to chair a department at MIT, just to name a few. She also co-chaired the Department of Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Discrimination, but later stepped down to resume teaching.

She received her B.S. in 1960, an M.S. in 1961 and a Ph.D. in 1964, all in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT. Her many research activities have included boundary layer stability, unsteady hydrodynamic loads on fully wetted and supercavitating hydrofoils of finite span, unsteady lifting-surface theory, tip-vortex aerodynamics, helicopter noise, air-craft wake studies, turbulence and transition.

Widnall is also known for designing MIT's advanced wind tunnel facility, which she did as a member of the faculty in the School of Engineering.

A past President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and a member of the Carnegie Commission on Science, Dr. Widnall also has been director of the Aerospace Corporation.

Among the many awards she has received are the Lawrence Sperry Award and the Durand Lectureship from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Society of Women Engineers, and the National Academy of Engineering’s (NAE) Distinguished Service Award.

In addition to being honored by Women in Aviation, who recently inducted her into their Pioneer Hall of Fame, she was named 1996 New Englander of the year by the New England Council. She is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, AAAS, AIAA, and the American Academy of Arts and Science.

In 1998 the IEEE made her an Honorary Member “For outstanding leadership to the United States Air Force and technology.” In 2003, she was inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame.