Irmgard Flügge-Lotz was born on July 16, 1903 in Hameln, Germany. In 1923, she graduated from high school and enrolled in Technical University in Hanover where she studied applied mathematics. She was the only woman in many of her classes.
In 1927, she earned the degree of Diplom-Ingenieur, and in 1929, she became a Doktor-Ingenieur. She began working at the Aerodynamische Versuchsanstalt (AVA) in Gottingen, a research institute. However, she was not able to do research full time - she was asked to devote half of her time to clerical work, leaving the other half for research. She worked closely with the leading German aerodynamicists of the time, Ludwig Prandlt and Albert Betz, director of the institute.
Before Lotz's arrival, Prandlt had been working on the equation for his lifting line theory for the spanwise lift distribution of an airplane wing. Applying her mathematical skills, Lotz solved the equation, and developed a relatively convenient method for practical use. Lotz was then promoted to head of this dominant group dealing with aerodynamics. In 1938, Irmgard married Dr. Wilhelm Flügge, a civil engineer. He had just accepted a position as a department head at the Deutche Versuchsanstalt fur Luftfahrt (DVL) in Berlin.
The leaders of the DVL quickly became aware of the talent possessed by his wife and offered her a position as consultant in aerodynamics and flight dynamics. There, she began her career in automatic control theory, developing the theory of discontinuous, or on-off control systems. In 1944, the Flügges moved their DLV activities to Saulgau. When Germany surrendered (in World War II) the next year, the Flügges found themselves in the French zone of occupation. In 1947, they both accepted offers to join the newly established ONERA (French National Office for Aeronautical Research) in Paris. Flügge-Lotz served as chief of a research group in aerodynamics until 1948 and published papers in both automatic control theory and aerodynamics, in which she discussed the problems arising from the increased speed of aircrafts.
In 1948, the Flügges left France and came to the United States to teach at Stanford University. Her husband was hired as a full-time professor, and Irmgard was hired as a lecturer in engineering mechanics and research supervisor. She undertook the guidance of Ph. D. dissertation research in aerodynamic theory. In the 1949, Flügge-Lotz taught her first Stanford course and later introduced a year- long sequence of courses in mathematical hydro- and aerodynamics for first-year graduate students. Flügge-Lotz continued to show strong interest in fluid mechanics, numerical methods and automatic controls.
At Stanford, she developed new courses, guided the research of a succession of Ph.D. candidates, and co-authored research reports with her students. The number of her students had grown so much that by 1951 she established a weekly fluid mechanics seminar at which faculty and students met to discuss ideas. It became evident that Flügge-Lotz was carrying-on the duties of a full-time professor without official recognition. This injustice was alleviated in 1960 when Flügge-Lotz was the only female delegate from the United States at the first Congress of the International Federation of Automatic Control in Moscow. Before school opened for fall quarter, Irmgard was appointed full professor in both engineering mechanics, and aeronautics and astronautics.
She had become Stanford's first female professor in engineering. In 1970, she was awarded the Achievement award by the Society of Women Engineers. She was the first woman elected to be a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1970, and in 1971 she was the first woman to be selected to give the prestigious von Karman Lecture. Though she retired in 1968, Flügge-Lotz continued her research on satellite control, heat transfer, and drag of high-speed vehicles.
After a fulfilling career of teaching, research and the publication of over fifty technical papers, Flügge-Lotz died in Stanford Hospital in 1974; she was 70 years old. She had indeed lived a "life which would never be boring." Appropriately, her exciting contributions to the fields of engineering and mathematics will never go overlooked.
Photo originally provided by the Stanford School of Engineering.