Karen Thole named fellow of Royal Aeronautical Society

November 29, 2023

By Mariah R. Lucas

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Royal Aeronautical Society (RAS) named Karen Thole, distinguished professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State, a fellow.  

RAS works to advance aeronautical art, science and engineering around the world. The highest grade attainable in the society, fellowship is awarded to those who have made outstanding contributions to — and have attained a position of high responsibility in — an aerospace or aerospace-related profession, according to RAS 

Thole was recognized for her research in aeronautical engineering, which has led to breakthroughs in the design of internal and external cooling components in gas turbine engines that lead to longer part life. She also was recognized for founding and directing the Steady Thermal Aero Research Turbine (START) Lab at Penn State, founded in 2012 through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Lab and Pratt & Whitney. The lab is designed to perform turbine heat transfer studies using a state-of-the-art test turbine, along with instrumentation development and additive manufacturing to advance turbine research.   

Thole also was recognized for her service on advisory boards for NASA and the Department of the U.S. Air Force as well as several National Academy of Engineering studies related to aviation propulsion systems. 

“Karen is an internationally recognized leader in gas turbine heat transfer,” said Mary Frecker, professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering and head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “Her leadership of the START Lab has brought innovative technological advances to turbine research and has impacted hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students.”  

Thole is a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). In the past eight years, Thole has received the R. Tom Sawyer Award, the Heat Transfer Memorial Award and the George Westinghouse Gold Medal from ASME, as well as the Thermophysics Award and the Air Breathing Propulsion Award from AIAA. 

Thole received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. She headed Penn State’s mechanical engineering department from 2006-21.  

Formal presentation of the award will take place in 2024 at the society’s annual fellowship reception.  


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