Theodore von Kármán
Von Kármán began his research in aerodynamics while teaching at the University of Göttingen, starting with an observation related to fluid dynamics. In 1911, while observing currents of water in a flow tank, von Kármán observed the presence of eddies (counter-rotating currents) in the wake of a moving object. This observation led to the Kármán Vortex Trail, a scientific snapshot of the structure of a wake behind a moving body under certain conditions. This discovery on the structure of airflow led to studies on air turbulence that has advanced the design and performance of aircraft.
At the beginning of World War II, he began working for the Austrian air force as director of their research laboratory. This began what would be a long and successful relationship with the military. While working in Austria, von Kármán continued his wind tunnel experimentation and developed an early version of a helicopter and a synchronization system that allowed a machine gun to be fired through the propeller of an airplane while in flight.
In 1938, he served as the chairman of the National Academy of Sciences committee, advising the military on how to use rocket power to assist airplanes in taking off. In 1941, von Kármán co-founded Aerojet General to develop rocket engines, and in 1944 he was instrumental in founding the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which later led to the development of long-range missiles and a space-exploration research program.
In 1944, von Kármán also chaired the Air Corps Scientific Advisory Group, which developed a blueprint of a post war military system entitled, "Where We Stand." This report studied cutting edge technology and predicted supersonic flight, inter-continental ballistic missiles, and nuclear missiles. For many years it was the master plan for Air Force development.
Considered a visionary and a mathematical genius, von Kármán was extremely gifted in science and technology as a child. Born in 1895 in Budapest, Hungary, Theodore von Kármán graduated with highest honors from the Budapest Royal Technical University in 1902. He continued his studies in mechanical engineering at the University of Göttingen in 1906, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1908 and remained as an associate professor until 1912. Von Kármán was considered a colorful character. Von Kármán received many honors for his pioneering work in aerodynamics and improving aircraft performance, including the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Medal, the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, the Daniel Guggenheim Award, and the National Medal of Science. He was well known for his wide circle of acquaintances, and he died in Aachen, Germany in 1963.