For the Public
© Best Kontakt Kft, 2010

The purpose of the von Kármán Laboratory for Environmental Flows

Our goal in the laboratory is to provide an insight to the large-scale hydrodynamical processes of our environment through relatively inexpensive, yet scenic, enlighting experiments.

Through these, students can get familiar with laboratory-scale equivalents of such phenomena as breaking waves, tsumanis, cyclones, the formation of ocean currents, weather fronts and sand dunes, the propagation of smoke in the atmosphere and atmospheric and oceanic (two dimensional) turbulence. This group of phenomena is referred to as environmental flows and their desription is provided by the so-called geophysical fluid dynamics.

In the dynamics of environmental flows the stratification, caused by the continuously varying density of the media, and the rotation of Earth play key role. The detailed analysis based on hydrodynamic similarity shows that the natural processes can be appropriately modeled in the laboratory using rotating tanks and vertically density-stratified salt solutions.

The physics of environmental flows as an educational topic and the educational form that is carried in the von Kármán Laboratory is a novelty in our University, in our country and - to our best knowledge - in the whole Central-Eastern European region. In Western Europe and America such laboratories have already been established for years. The most comprehensive similar research and educational unit known to us is the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of the Institute of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the Cambridge University (UK).

Who was Theodore von Kármán?

Theodore von Kármán - KÁRMÁN TÓDOR (1881 - 1963)

Theodore von Kármán was born into a Budapest family as Kármán Tódor. After completing his elementary studies with private tutors, he graduated at the University Training Grammar School founded by his father, Mór Kármán. He earned his degree in Mechanical Engineering at the Budapest Technical University. After completing his military service he worked as a demonstrator assistant of professor Donát Bánki (co-inventor of the carburetor) at the Technical University for a while, and later as an engineer at Ganz Electric Ltd in Budapest. In 1902 he joined Ludwig Prandtl at the University of Goettingen, and received his doctorate in 1908. He taught at Goettingen for four years. In 1912 for a short period he taught and worked at the university of Selmecbánya (now Banska Staniavnica, Slovakia), but there he could not find appropriate conditions to unfold his profession and talent. In that year he accepted a position as director of the Aeronautical Institute at RWTH Aachen, one of the leading universities of Germany.

His time at RWTH Aachen was interrupted by service in the Austro-Hungarian Army during the First World War. After a year of service in a military dress depot, he was re-assigned to the Aerodynamics Laboratory near Vienna, where he could carry out experiments worthy to his talent and profession. Here, together with his colleagues, he developed the world's first military rotorcraft, the PKZ-type helicopter.

After the end of the war he came home, but soon after, in 1919, he emigrated to contnue teaching at Aachen. During that period he also started to work as a lecturer at US universities. In 1933 he finally settled in the USA, where he got involved in rocket science as the director of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory. He played important role in the development of supersonic flight and the first ballistic missiles. Craters on Mars and the Moon are named in his honor.