(1881-1963) Hungarian-born US aerodynamicist who enabled the US to acquire a lead in rocket research. The research establishments he helped create include the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Kármán was born and educated in Budapest. In 1908 he went to France and witnessed an early airplane, which inspired him to concentrate on aeronautical engineering. Between 1913 and 1930, with the exception of the years of World War I, when he directed aeronautical research in the Austro-Hungarian army, Kármán built the new Aachen Institute, Germany, into a world-recognized research establishment. From 1928 he divided his time between the Aachen Institute and the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology.
Studying the flow of fluids around a cylinder, Kármán discovered that the wake separates into two rows of vortices which alternate like street lights. This phenomenon is called the Kármán vortex street, or Kármán vortices, and it can build up destructive vibrations. The Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge was destroyed in 1940 by such vortices.
Kármán prompted the first research and development program on long-range rocket-propelled missiles. He also worked on boundary layer and compressibility effects, supersonic flight, propeller design, helicopters, and gliders.