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Science without Borders Scholar Diogo Castilho's Path from the Brazilian Airforce to MIT

Diogo Castilho is a Science without Borders scholar pursuing a doctoral degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in aeronautics and astronautics.

Now entering his second year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Science without Borders scholar, Diogo Castilho, is continuing his education in the field of aeronautics and astronautics, an area of interest that he has held since childhood.


“My childhood dream was to become a fighter pilot,” Castilho shares. “I was a teenager spending most of my free time on flight simulators. During weekends, I used to construct my own R/C planes. In science fairs I knew always what I wanted to present and it was always related to aviation.” As soon as he could, Castilho entered the Air Force Academy where he graduated as an officer of the Brazilian Air Force. But Castilho did not stop there. He continued studying by taking specialization courses in electronic warfare, safety and flight testing, and on top of all this, while working as an instructor for the test pilot school, Castilho earned a master’s in business administration and a master’s in science from the Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica.

Wanting to gain a deeper understanding of systems engineering concepts to make modern system, such as planes and cars, safer and more intuitive, Castilho decided to apply for a Science without Borders scholarship administered by Laspau. Not long after, Castilho was admitted to MIT, a place, Castilho emphasizes, that in just two years, has already provided him with some invaluable experiences.

“MIT provides us the opportunity to work with remarkable people from many different places. What we learn goes much further than language and technical knowledge. We see the small details that define different cultures.”

One experience in particular stands out in Castilho’s mind when asked about an unforgettable moment during his time thus far at MIT.

“MIT provides us the opportunity to work with remarkable people from many different places. What we learn goes much further than language and technical knowledge. We see the small details that define different cultures.”

“I am a huge fan of the space race,” Castilho explains. “At MIT, I had the opportunity to attend many lectures. One of them was the astronaut Jim Lovell, the commander of the Apollo 13… I watched from the second row of a super packed auditorium and his lecture was memorable.” Currently, Castilho is spending the summer at MIT, continuing his research with the Systems Engineering Research Lab (SERL) headed by Professor Nancy Leveson. The focus of the lab is on systems safety. Castilho, along with other researchers, studies unsafe scenarios between a systems controller and his or her machine, with the goal of producing new safety requirements and constraints.

As for the future, Castilho maintains his childhood dream of working as a test pilot.“I plan to return to Brazil and keep working on Brazilian Air Force projects until I retire,” Castilho shares.

In addition to continuing his career in flight, Castilho emphasizes his mission to use his current research to help improve aeronautics education in Brazil. He plans to apply the concepts learned at MIT to the Brazilian test flight course and in graduate level courses at ITA. When asked what advice he would give to future scholars, Castilho responds: “Spend some time to put your paperwork together, aligning your objectives with one of the institution’s labs and hope for the best…If you are not accepted, have in mind that the selection is subjective and don’t give up. If you are accepted, enjoy every minute and every opportunity [during] this important phase.”

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Laspau is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization affiliated with Harvard University. We focus on strengthening higher education in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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