Dr. Theodore von Karmen received a fellowship to the world famous Gottingen University where he undertook the investigation of aerodynamic drag and the construction of one of Europe’s first wind tunnels. He then accepted the chair of aeronautics at the Technische Hochschule in Aachen, Germany. His presence made the school an international center for aeronautical research.
In reaction to growing Nazi influence in German academic circles, von Karmen moved to California in 1930, where he was director of the Guggenheim Aeronautics Laboratory at Cal Tech until 1949. He helped to create the Advisory Group on Aeronautical Research and Development for the NATO countries, serving as Chairman of that body from 1951 until his death.
Theodore von Karmen’s contributions to aeronautics have a wide range, including structural composite materials research in the 1920s and helicopter research during World War II. His works include fundamental research on the longitudinal stability of aircraft, the theory of motion and turbulence in fluids, laminar flow and turbulent skin friction, resistance in compressible fluids, and supersonic aerodynamics. His ideas influenced the design of the first aircraft to break the sound barrier, the Bell X-I. In 1954 he was awarded the Wright Brothers trophy and was the first U.S. Medal of Science recipient.
Although von Karmen’s primary interest was aeronautics, he was an extraordinary mathematical genius, writer, and educator, authoring nearly 150 books and articles in engineering, physics, and mathematics. His capacity for stimulating research colleagues and students, for building research organizations, and for organizing international scientific meetings was renowned. He founded the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Aerojet Corporation. His genius touched every phase of contemporary aerospace endeavor.
Inducted in 1968.
Portrait Location: Not yet on the Museum Floor