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Theodore von Kármán

AKA Todor von Sköllöskislaki Kármán

Born: 11-May-1881
Birthplace: Budapest, Hungary
Died: 7-May-1963
Location of death: Aachen, Germany
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, CA

Gender: Male
Religion: Jewish
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Mathematician, Engineer

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Kármán vortices

Military service: Austro-Hungarian Army Aviation Corps (1902-03 and 1914-18)

Mathematician and aerodynamicist Theodore von Kármán was most noted for his work in fluid mechanics, but he was involved in a breathtaking array of 20th century aerodynamic breakthroughs. He was a math prodigy in childhood, winning the Eötvös Prize as the top math student in Hungary. He studied under Ludwig Prandtl, and in early experiments with the wind tunnel at the Zeppelin Airship Company, he discovered what is now known as Kármán vortices, noting that the vortices in a flat body in fluid occur in a staggered pattern on both sides. He later fled the advancing Nazis, became an American citizen, and made significant contributions to aerodynamics, hydrodynamics, and thermodynamics.

His research helped establish the improved stability and functionality of swept-back wings, now standard in modern jet aircraft, and had applications in airfoil theory, crystallography, elasticity, heat transfer, supersonic aerodynamics, vibration theory, and potential flow, transonic flow, and viscous flow. He investigated the structural failure of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and founded the Scientific Advisory Group to advise the US military, and the Research & Technology Organization, which provides a similar service for NATO. He was the first Director of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which became part of NASA in 1958. He was a founder of Aerojet, a leading rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer. He never married.

Father: Mór Kármán (philosopher)
Mother: Helen Kohn Kármán

    High School: Minta Model Gymnasium, Budapest, Hungary (1897)
    University: MS Mechanical Engineering, Technical University of Budapest (1902)
    Teacher: Hydraulics, Technical University of Budapest (1903-06)
    University: PhD Engineering, University of Göttingen (1908)
    Professor: Applied Mechanics, Schemnitz Mining College (1912)
    Professor: Engineering, University of Göttingen (1912-13)
    Administrator: Director, Aeronautical Institute at Aachen, Germany (1913-14)
    Professor: Aeronautics, Technical University at Aachen (1913-14, 1918-30)
    Scholar: Aeronautics, California Institute of Technology (1926-30)
    Administrator: Director, Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory, California Institute of Technology (1930-33)
    Administrator: President, US Institute of Aeronautical Sciences (1933-49)
    Administrator: Director, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology (1944-49)
    Professor: Aeronautics, California Institute of Technology (1949-63)

    ASME Medal 1941
    Aerodynamics Hall of Fame
    International Aerospace Hall of Fame
    International Space Hall of Fame
    National Aviation Hall of Fame
    National Inventors Hall of Fame
    Presidential Medal for Merit 1946
    National Medal of Science 1963
    National Academy of Engineering
    Royal Society 1946
    Scientific Advisory Group (1944-49)
    Aerojet Engineering Corporation Founder and President (1942-43)
    Zeppelin Airship Company Engineer (1908-11)
    Lunar Crater Kármán
    Naturalized US Citizen 1936
    Hungarian Ancestry
    Risk Factors: Smoking

Author of books:
Mathematical Methods in Engineering (1940, with Maurice A. Biot)
Advances in Applied Mechanics (1948, with Richard Von Mises)
Aerodynamics (1963)
From Low-Speed Aerodynamics to Astronautics (1963)
The Wind and Beyond: Theodore von Kármán (1967, autobiography, with Lee Edson)
Perspectives in Aeroelasticity (1972)
Collected Works of Theodore Von Kármán (1975)
Bringing Aerodynamics to America (1982, with Paul A. Hanle)

Appears on postage stamps:
USA, Scott #2699 (29 cents, portrait w/ rocket in background, issued 31-Aug-1992)


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