Eli Reshotko made seminal contributions in aerodynamics and fluid mechanics both as a researcher at the Lewis Research Center and through continual associations with the center while at Case Western University (CWRU). He is internationally renowned for his pioneering fundamental research on compressible boundary layers, their stability and transition. NASA’s Dr. David Ashpis explained, “Eli Reshotko’s outstanding characteristic is deep understanding of flow physics along with the ability to apply his understanding towards practical applications, providing solutions and methods that advanced the state of the art in aerodynamics.” Reshotko grasped complex physical concepts and helped design tools and methods to apply these concepts to practical applications like supersonic aircraft and advanced propulsion systems.
Reshotko was born in New York City on November 18, 1930. He earned his undergraduate degree from Cooper Union in 1950 and a master’s of Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University the following year.
Reshotko joined the Lewis laboratory in June 1951 as research engineer in the Supersonic Propulsion Division’s Propulsion Aerodynamics Section. The laboratory was exploring issues regarding engines for supersonic aircraft and missiles. Although most of the lab’s research was applied, Reshotko and a small cadre of others in his division focused on basic research. During this period, Reshotko explored the aerodynamics of high-speed inlets and nozzles and made a seminal contribution to the compressible boundary-layer theory that not only provided understanding of the issue but introduced new (pre-computer era) methods to calculate high-speed flows and heat transfer. In 1956 he was named head of the division’s Fluid Mechanics Section. He continued his studies of boundary-layer transition and the high-speed aerodynamic heating of objects of different shapes while supervising approximately eight colleagues.
In 1957, Reshotko was selected as one of only four scientists nationally to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship for doctoral aeronautical research. He took leave of Lewis in September 1957 to further study compressible boundary layers and laminar and turbulent boundary layers at the California Institute of Technology. This included a summer flow experiment at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He returned to Lewis in 1960 after earning a Ph.D. in aeronautics and physics.
Lewis had undergone a significant transformation during Reshotko’s absence. The Soviet Union had launched Sputnik, the NACA had become part of the new NASA space agency, and Lewis had refocused almost all of its energies on space-related subjects. This included the new field of electric propulsion in which ion thrusters generate a gas like plasma that is directed by magnets out of the engine, producing thrust.
Dr. Reshotko was named head of the new Electromagnetic Propulsion Division’s High Temperature Plasma Section. This group conducted basic research on high-temperature plasma physics. In 1962 He was promoted to chief of the Plasma Physics Branch. He and his staff studied the generation of magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) power, the creation of hot plasmas, and general plasma and fluids physics. The work advanced the state of the art in areas of MHD power generation, ion heating and nuclear reactor safety. Dr. Reshotko recognized the long development period for these types of propulsion systems and admitted at the time that the applications were “very much in the future—perhaps not in my lifetime.”
The transition from the NACA to NASA also led to a reduction in Lewis’ basic research as the center was drawn into more development and contract management work. Several of the center’s nationally recognized fundamental researchers left for academia or industry in the early 1960s. In 1964 Dr. Reshotko joined other former Lewis researchers at CWRU, where he continued his research of boundary layers and stability theory while teaching numerous engineering and fluid mechanics courses. Dr. Reshotko has served since 1970 as the chairman of the U.S. Boundary Layer Transition Study Group.
In the 1970s Dr. Reshotko chaired CWRU’s Department of Fluid, Thermal, and Aerospace Sciences and subsequently the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Under his guidance, these departments became internationally recognized and began attracting students from all over the United States and the world. Dr. Reshotko also served as CWRU’s dean and interim dean in 1986 and 1987, before returning to his research and students.
Dr. Reshotko is currently CWRU’s Kent H. Smith Professor Emeritus of Engineering. As a professor, he is known for his ability to clearly explain complex physical concepts. He emphasized the understanding of the physical fundamentals and use of those basics to resolve practical challenges in aeronautics.
During his career at CWRU, Dr. Reshotko continued to work closely with NASA Lewis. His research, much of which was NASA-sponsored, included seal dynamics for space power systems, fluid transfer in propellant tanks, flow transition for the National Aerospace Plane, icing research and numerous other subjects. He also served on several NASA advisory boards and chaired the joint NASA–CWRU Computational Mechanics in Propulsion effort to attract foreign experts to the university and Lewis. In addition, Lewis received the enduring benefit of Dr. Reshotko’s mentoring of both Lewis employees seeking advanced degrees and young students who would go on to NASA careers.
Reshotko authored or co-authored over 90 technical publications for NASA and over 200 journal articles, review papers, invited and contributed conference papers, and technical reports. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1984, has received numerous awards, and served on or led numerous national and international committees and boards.
Dr. Ashpis summarized Dr. Reshotko’s legacy, “Dr. Reshotko’s work at the center and as a university professor left a mark on the field of aeronautics. His work significantly contributed to NASA and the global research community and affected the development of major aeronautical projects. His expertise, ability to articulate complex scientific and engineering topics, coupled with his humble demeanor, earned him international stature and respect.”