Ella Atkins, a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan who will become the head of the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech this fall, has been named the Fred D. Durham Chair in Engineering by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

The Fred D. Durham Professorship was established in 1988 through a gift from Fred Durham, who received a degree in civil engineering from Virginia Tech in 1921. The chair recognizes teaching and research excellence and supports the recruitment and retention of world-class faculty in the College of Engineering.

In Atkins' current role, directs the University of Michigan's Autonomous Aerospace Systems Lab. She also has  served as the associate director of the university’s Robotics Institute. In addition, she recently spent a year as a technical fellow at Collins Aerospace, gaining industry research and development experience while also offering expertise in aerospace artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

Atkins' scholarship focuses on aerospace information systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, and robotics. She is considered to be a pioneer in the area of aerospace information and serves as the editor in chief of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Journal of Aerospace Systems.

Earlier this year, she received the AIAA Intelligent Systems Award, a major career-capping award on par with the AIAA Multidisciplinary Design Optimization Award that has been won by fellow College of Engineering faculty members Robert Canfield and Rakesh Kapania. 

In her career, Atkins has served on several influential technical committees, including the National Academy Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. For her contributions to aerospace information systems, she was elected as an AIAA Fellow. She has published 87 peer-reviewed journal articles, has received approximately $300,000 in research funding per year, and has advised 26 Ph.D. students during her career.

Atkins received a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in computer science and engineering from the University of Michigan.

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