Paula Gutierrez – Disrupting the renewable energy sector

Name: Paula Gutierrez 

Programme: MEng Aeronautics with Year Abroad (5 Years) 

Year of study: 4th year 

Favourite places: Madrid and London 

Studying at Imperial 

What made you become interested in Aeronautical Engineering?   

Ever since I was young, I always questioned how aircraft are able to fly and if humanity would ever land on Mars. I eventually decided to study Aeronautical Engineering as it is known to be one of the most challenging degrees you can do.  

Why did you decide to study at the Department of Aeronautics at Imperial? 

I initially applied to a number of different degrees in different countries. However, Imperial’s high ranking, amongst the best universities in the world, made it stand out to me. I have always lived in big cities and the university’s central location in London made me decide that it was the best choice for me. 

How have you found your course so far?  

I have enjoyed my course a lot. When I fist started Imperial, I was nervous as I did not have a in-depth understanding of aeroplanes. However, after a month, I felt that I was at the same level as my peers thanks to the introductory Mathematics course. After a few months I felt like I could pilot an aircraft! 

The chance of accessing lots of different equipment within the Department makes the course really stimulating.  I enjoyed using the different wind tunnels and was especially impressed by the three flight simulators we used during the ‘Fly Dynamics’ course.  

I have now progressed to receive an opportunity from the Department to do a research program at MIT and a year abroad at University of California, Berkeley – which is incredible. 

What has been your favourite area of study so far and why?   

My favourite modules have been the three aerodynamics modules that you complete across the first three years of the degree. They covered many aspects of Aerodynamics and Computational Fluid Dynamics. I particularly enjoyed discovering more about boundary layers, turbulence, and hypersonic flow.  

However, the most enriching module was the ‘Aeronautics Vehicle Design’ module. We had to design an entire 90 passenger aircraft for short-haul flights from scratch!

Please tell us about any volunteering opportunities, competitions or field work you’ve been part of since joining Imperial.   

In my second year, I participated in the Space Leanspace Hackathon with two other Imperial students and a student from Kings College London. We were invited to the Hackathon final at the Space Tech Expo in 2022 (Bremen, Germany), where we developed a satellite ground station in two days.  

We were awarded a prize for innovation, securing VIP tickets for the International Astronautical Conference (IAC) 2022! I was also offered a 2022 summer internship from one of the Hackathon sponsors – Clearspace, in Switzerland. I got the opportunity to work as a Control and Navigation Engineer at Clearspace.

I also participated in the Build my app Google Hackathon in Los Angeles this year, where myself and my four teammates (from my exchange at University of California, Berkeley), were awarded first prize for developing LevelApp, an app that empowers SME sales through Machine Learning. 

This year, I also published my first paper at International Astronautical Conference 2023 (co-authored by Dr Paul Bruce and Pietro Innocenzi from the Department of Aeronautics). I also want to thank Imperial College Old Centralians’ Trust for awarding me the Undergraduate Travel Award and Imperial College Gate Trust to fund my presentation in Baku. 

This summer, I will join the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory as an intern in the Contamination Control Team. I’ll be working on Computational Fluid Dynamics for projects such as Mars 2020 and Europa Clipper. 

Tell us about how your experience becoming a ‘Supernova’ 

The Nova 111 list recognises the 111 best students between 18 to 25 years old in each country in ten specific categories. These categories included computer science, economics and engineering. There is a competitive application process which includes different interviews and logical reasoning tests. 

This year, I was shortlisted as one of the 111 students and voted as the ‘Supernova’ winner of the Spanish list . As a part of the prize, students get access to a personal acceleration program and are invited to dedicated networking events.  

I would recommend people to apply, as it is a unique opportunity to network with other talented students, industry leaders and international companies such as Bain, McKinsey or Boston Consulting Group. The winners of the list were also featured in several news channels. Read more about the Spanish winners. 

How else are you involved with university life?  

I was selected for the International Research Opportunity Program (IROP). The program enables students to spend a summer doing research in one of Imperial’s partner universities. For mine, I spent 8 weeks at MIT researching Hypersonic Aerothermodynamics on the study of a re-entry vehicle. This was an absolutely amazing experience because I had the opportunity to join one of the best institutions in the world while discovering US culture for the first time. I am continuing my research at MIT and hope to publish a paper very soon. 

I was also one of three Imperial students who was selected to complete a year abroad at the University of California, Berkley. This gave me the opportunity to take a wide variety of modules amongst different disciplines including Business and Machine Learning, which complemented my knowledge in the field of engineering.

I have also been able to attend several events in Silicon Valley and Stanford, including the recent Imperial College President visit and a startup showcase in San Francisco. I was invited to a pitch and meet investors, Imperial alumni and Imperial College President, Professor Hugh Brady. 

Paula Gutierrez and Imperial College President, Professor Hugh Brady. 

I am also discovering the US and Californian culture and have been able to travel to amazing places such as Los Angeles, the Grand Canyon and Hawaii. I would widely encourage everyone at Imperial to do a year abroad. 

Study experience  

Have you discovered any hidden campus gems while at Imperial? 

Whilst it is not really a hidden place, I think most people would agree that the best lunch at Imperial is the Katsu Curry from Kimiko. On Tuesday’s, there is also a Farmer’s Food market on campus – the pizza truck is amazing!

Career path and future goals 

What would you like to do after you graduate? 

Whilst I’m not completely sure, there are several things I would like to do, including working in the space industry as an aerothermodynamics engineer or taking up a role in Formula 1.  

I would also like to continue my entrepreneurship career. I currently have a climate fintech startup Volta that I am developing with another Aeronautics student.  Volta aims to reconnect the public with the renewable energy sector. We are currently in stealth mode and will start our fundraising round soon.

How will Imperial College help you achieve your future goals? 

Imperial College has helped me in many ways to achieve my goals. Apart from being a renowned university, it has opened many doors, including being able to attend other top institutions.

One of the ways Imperial has helped me the most is through the Enterprise Lab. I was able to receive mentoring for my start-up via the Imperial Experts-in-residence program, as well as participate in the Venture Catalyst Challenge, securing the £5,000 Moonshot prize. I have learnt valuable skills including learning how to pitch to investors, techniques to fundraise and how to make a Business Model Canvas. 


What do you think is the most important quality to succeed?  

I think the most important quality to succeed is perseverance. Sometimes things don’t go as you expected but if you are focused on reaching your goals, you will achieve them one way or another.  

Discuss your greatest achievement/highlight so far 

One of my greatest achievements was winning the European Space Agency (ESA) Grand Prix at the Student Aerospace Challenge with other three Aeronautics Students (Joel Tomas, Adrien Venot and Kiril Surkov). We developed a suborbital vehicle using an innovative airfoil called the Busemann biplane 

We received ESA sponsorship which included an invitation to present our research at International Astronautical Conference (IAC) IAC22 and to be part of the International Student Education Board (ISEB).  

This gave us the chance to be interviewed for different news outlets such as El Mundo, and several radio stations.


Thanks to this exposure, I was then invited to be one of the speakers at “The Women Time” organised by El Mundo and Unidad Editorial. 

International Student Experience

What country are you from? 

I am half Spanish and half French but I have always lived in Madrid, Spain. 

Would you recommend Imperial to those from your home country and why? 

I would definitely recommend Imperial to everyone, especially to students from Spain and France due to several reasons:  

  • You can perfect your English whilst discovering a new culture.  
  • Imperial is located in central London which is one of the most international cities in the world. 
  • You are close enough to take a flight or even train back to your home town for a long weekend.  

What are the best things about Imperial’s international student body? 

Imperial College is very international and you can find students and lecturers from almost every country. I joined the Spanish and French societies which meant I met a lot of people from my home country who really helped me integrate during the first few months. There are more than 60 cultural societies where you can meet a lot of new people!

What would be your top tip(s) for prospective students looking to study abroad? 

Before going on your year abroad, try to get in contact with people who will be doing the same course as you. I’d even recommend meeting with other students in person if possible. This way you’ll already know people at your partner university.