Majdalani delivers 2023 von Kármán Lecture

Published: Nov 30, 2023 1:30 PM

By Dustin Duncan

Joe Majdalani, the Hugh and Loeda Francis Chair of Excellence in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, recently delivered the 2023 von Kármán Lecture in Astronautics, a prestigious lectureship hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

The plenary is named after Theodore von Kármán, a world-renowned authority in aeronautics and astronautics. In 1932, von Kármán created the U.S. Institute for Aeronautical Sciences, which later became the AIAA. 

This lecture has a long-standing legacy, first delivered in 1964 by Arthur Kantrowitz, one year after von Kármán’s passing. Majdalani presented this lecture on Oct. 23 at the AIAA ASCEND Forum in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Other recipients of this award include distinguished scholars, Nobel prize laureates, and national academy members such as William R. Sears (1968), Courtland D. Perkins (1969), Arthur E. Bryson (1994), John L. Junkins (1997), John D. Anderson (2000), Earl H. Dowell (2002), G. Scott Hubbard (2004), Vigor Yang (2016), and Kathleen C. Howell (2022).


 two men shaking hands on stage during award ceremony
Majdalani receiving the von Kármán medal and award certificate from George Lesieutre, AIAA National Honors and Awards Committee chair.

His lecture, “On Kármán’s Momentum-Integral and Space-Reductive Formulations in Rocketry and Beyond,” celebrated the centennial of the momentum-integral approach, one of the most significant theoretical contributions of von Kármán, taught globally in most aerodynamics and fluid mechanics textbooks.

Majdalani discussed the broad impact of von Kármán’s approach, introduced in 1921 and often used in conjunction with Pohlhausen’s approximations of the boundary-layer region, which — most paradoxically — deteriorated at increasing orders. 

The lecture demonstrated overcoming the Pohlhausen paradox and presented alternative formulations that yielded more accurate predictions.

Majdalani also showcased how the momentum-integral approach could empower fast-growing computational techniques, such as FlightStream, a surface-vorticity panel code developed by Roy Hartfield, the Walt and Virginia Woltosz Professor of aerospace engineering, and Vivek Ahuja, an Auburn aerospace engineering alumnus.

In illustrating von Kármán’s systematic reduction of complex problems, the lecture closed with a discussion of several solutions to cyclonic flowfields that characterize America’s Spaceplane, the Dream Chaser, and Sierra’s class of VORTEX® rocket engines and Reaction Control Thrusters.


Majdalani at the conclusion of the von Kármán plenary.
Majdalani at the conclusion of the von Kármán plenary.

“For more than 30 years, I have been teaching aerodynamics, perturbation theory and aeroacoustics using course notes from Theodore von Kármán that were passed on to me through my advisor, Dr. William K. Van Moorhem, who had studied at Cornell University under von Kármán’s own doctoral student, Dr. William R. Sears,” Majdalani said. “For this, I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to pay homage to von Kármán while celebrating the centennial of his most significant contribution, the momentum-integral approach, that has truly revolutionized the field of aerodynamics.”

George Lesieutre, chair of the AIAA Honors and Awards Committee, said the lectureship recognizes an individual who has performed notably and distinguished themselves technically in the field of astronautics.

“Professor Majdalani has been a pioneering researcher in aerodynamics and rocket propulsion for more than 30 years,” he said. "As a prolific scholar and exemplary mentor, he has received invitations to present more than 97 seminars and plenaries worldwide.” 

Majdalani has co-authored more than 325 papers and a leading textbook on viscous boundary layers, Viscous Fluid Flow, now in its 4th edition.

He has developed several new formulations based on von Kármán’s approach, including a solution to the widely cited Blasius equation, whose analytical treatment had remained intractable since 1907.

“This is a tremendous honor for Dr. Majdalani, and we are proud of his accomplishments in this field,” said Mario Eden, dean of engineering. “This is another great example of how our faculty and researchers are making an impact around the world.”


Media Contact: Dustin Duncan,,
man on stage giving lecture

Joe Majdalani, the Hugh and Loeda Francis Chair of Excellence in the Department of Aerospace Engineering delivers the von Kármán plenary at ASCEND on Oct. 23, at the Ceasars Forum in Las Vegas.

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