John P. Thomas

Executive Director, Engineering Systems Laboratory

Prior to joining MIT, Dr. Thomas spent a number of years in industry working for aerospace, automotive, and defense companies. He holds a Ph.D. in Engineering Systems and is now a member of the the aeronautics and astronautics department at MIT. Dr. Thomas’s work involves creating structured processes for analyzing cyber-physical systems, especially systems that may behave in unanticipated, unsafe, or otherwise undesirable ways through complex interactions with each other and their environment. By using control theory and systems theory, more efficient and effective design and analysis processes can be created to prevent flaws that lead to unexpected and undesirable behaviors when integrated with other systems. More recently he has been applying these techniques to automated systems that are heavily dependent on human-computer interactions to achieve safety and security goals. These automated systems may not only be subject to human error–they may inadvertently induce human error through mode confusion, clumsy automation, and other mechanisms that can be difficult to anticipate.Dr. Thomas’s work involves developing systems approaches to engineering and analysis including Systems Theoretic Process Analysis (STPA), including the formal underlying structure that can be used to help ensure potentially hazardous or undesirable software behaviors are systematically identified and controlled. He has also developed algorithms to automatically generate formal executable and model-based requirements for software components as well as methods to detect flaws in an existing software specification. The same process can be applied to address security and functional goals of the system, thereby permitting the automated detection of conflicts between these and other goals during early development processes.

Academic Degrees
B.S. Computer Engineering
M.S. Computer Engineering (Network Security)
Ph.D. Engineering Systems

Positions Held at MIT
Executive Director
Research Scientist/Engineer
Postdoctoral Associate
Research Assistant
Ph.D. Candidate

Previous industry research experience
Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)
Ford Motor Company
General Motors
US Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Electric Power Research Instutute
Sandia National Laboratory Lincoln Laboratory
Raytheon Surveillance and Sensors Center
US Air Force Research Lab (AFRL)

Specialization and Research Interests
Systems Engineering, Transportation Engineering, Requirements Development and Analysis, Cybersecurity, Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS), Designing safety-critical systems, Software Engineering, Automated and Autonomous systems, Human-Computer Interaction

Teaching Interests
Systems Engineering
Requirements Engineering
User Interface Design
Human-Centered Software Engineering
Automation and Control Systems
Designing Cyber-Physical Systems
System and Software Security
Designing Safety-Critical Systems
Software Concepts
Control Theory
Signal Processing

Lab/Research Group Affiliations
System Engineering Research Laboratory
Safety and Security Research Lab
Software Engineering Research Lab
Complex Systems Research Lab