Theodore von Kármán

Theodore von KármánMany extensive biographies of Dr. von Karman have been written. The present biographical sketch intends to give the highlights of the more international aspects of his carreer, of which the VKI itself is an outstanding example.

Theodore von Karman was born in the year 1881 in Budapest, the son of a noted Hungarian educator and philosopher, Professor Maurice von Karman. His father had great vision and saw the necessity of developing common understanding among scientists and professionals of similar interests from many nations. His mother, Helen, was a gifted lady who contributed greatly to the same goals, through a broad intellectual home life. As a result, Theodore oriented his own life to help make his father’s vision come true. He grad- uated with highest honours from the Royal Institute of Technology in Budapest where he showed a pronounced ability in the field of applied mechanics. Recognizing these talents, his father encouraged him to study in other countries to broaden his background from an international and human, as well as scientific, point of view. As a result, Theodore von Karman went to Göttingen and became assis-
tant to the great Ludwig Prandtl.

 During this period he displayed his marked aptitude to simplify complex problems by identifying and concen- trating on the essential physical phenomena, neglecting sec- ond order effects. A typical example is his analysis of the well known Karman vortex street.
In 1912 Dr. von Karman became Director of the Aerodynamics Institute of the Technische Hochschule, Aachen. Under his leadership the Institute gained world- wide recognition, especially for its international flavour, since he actively encouraged the participation of scientists of different nationalities in his Institute. He travelled exten- sively, lectured in many countries, and his home in Vaals was an open-house for visiting scientists.
In 1930 he accepted the directorship of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory, California Institute of Technology (U.S.A.), which he rapidly built into a world- recognized Institute with pronounced international aspects.
At the same time he became increasingly active in international scientific societies.

At the end of World War II, Dr. von Karman was deeply grieved at the drastic set-back to international science, especially that scientists of many nations had been working in isolation from each other. He felt strongly that the impressive technological advances during the war could become, if put on a collaborative basis, of use to the good of all.

Helicopter FlorineDuring the post-war period, Dr. von Karman envisaged broad goals for international scientific collaboration. In his typical fashion, he broke down complex problems into separate manageable tasks. In this step-by-step approach, one of his major concepts, namely that of a multi-national scientific advisory group, took the form of the Advisory Group for Aeronautical Research and Development (AGARD) in 1952.

An equally important goal in Dr. von Karman’s vision was that of a multinational aeronautics research Institute. This eventually developed into what is now known as the von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics, object of the present publication on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary.

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