Science: For Hypersonics

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Most branches of technology have a backlog of unfinished business: basic principles worked out theoretically but not yet put to use. With jet propulsion, it is just the opposite. Practical jet engineers are already working close to the limits of theoretical knowledge. Ahead of them lies a blank area which the "longhairs" (theoretical men) have hardly begun to explore.

To refill the reservoir of jet theory, the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Foundation announced this week that it will grant $500,000 to Princeton University and California Institute of Technology for two jet propulsion centers. Top position in each will be a Goddard professorship named for Dr. Robert H. Goddard of Clark University, U.S. rocket pioneer. Cal-Tech's Goddard professor will be China-born Dr. Hsue-Shen Tsien, 38, now professor of aerodynamics at M.I.T.

The Guggenheim centers will not build bigger & better jet engines, nor even try to. Their job will be to push into unknown regions where the jet engineers of the future may want to follow. One project at Princeton will be the study of air behavior at "hypersonic" speeds—above Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound). When wind tunnels are forced to this speed, and a few of them can be, they hit a fantastic difficulty. The air expands and gets so cold that its oxygen and nitrogen condense into liquids. Princeton will study this disturbing phenomenon and try to deal with it before the practical engineers start working at Mach 5.

Jet research is old stuff at CalTech, which has always gone in for rough and noisy engineering. But until World War II, Princeton's academic calm was almost unbroken. Toward war's end it went jet with a bang. The screaming roar of rockets and ramjets in the laboratory behind Palmer Stadium outshouted the football enthusiasts. Already the staff of the psychology department laboratory, next door, has decided to move to a quieter spot.