Photo of Hans Wolfgang Liepmann

Hans Wolfgang Liepmann

  • National Medal of Science
  • Engineering

For his invaluable contributions to the physical sciences and engineering and their impact on the national defense and for his important theoretical and experimental advances in the areas of laminar flow, instability and transition, turbulence, shock-wave boundary layer interaction, transonic flow, aerodynamic noise, magnetofluid dynamics, and the mechanics of liquid helium.

It’s a good thing for the aerospace industry that Hans Liepmann overcame his father’s love of the humanities. Growing up in Berlin the young Liepmann’s great interest was physics, but his father, a noted physician, insisted on a classical education.

The younger Liepmann endured – and in later years his own students would benefit from that experience. After receiving a doctorate in physics from the University of Zurich in 1938, Liepmann came to the United States and taught and studied aeronautics at the California Institute of Technology

His aeronautics career was almost by accident, he told The Los Angeles Times in 1993. After receiving his Ph.D, a professor asked his plans. Tipsy from his beer, Liepmann replied, “aerodynamics,’’ though he knew little about it. That led to an invitation to come to Caltech.

In 1982 Liepmann was named director of school’s Graduate Aeronautical Laboratories, a post he held until 1985. Liepmann’s students would benefit greatly from his early years in Berlin: Remembering those teachers who he disdained as mere “drillmasters,’’ Liepmann fostered an approach heavy on research. Under his mentorship, Caltech’s students became leaders in academia and the aerospace industry.

By Robert Warren