Remembering the Rocket Man

By:      Ashley Duvelius
Date:   October 10, 2017

Kirti “Karman” Ghia, renowned research scientist and Distinguished Professor of the University of Cincinnati in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, passed away on June 13, 2017. In honor of Karman’s half-century of dedication to UC students, his family and the University have established the Professor Kirti “Karman” Ghia Endowed Graduate Student Assistance Fund:   

Dr. Kirti "Karman" Ghia

Dr. Kirti "Karman" Ghia

A half century of dedication, excellence and service - that is what Dr. Kirti “Karman” N. Ghia gave to the University of Cincinnati (UC) and the UC College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS). Since his passing, Karman’s family, students, colleagues, and friends have been reflecting on the thousands of hours, stretched over decades, that he gave to teaching and mentoring. 

Karman is survived by his devoted wife of 47 years, Urmila Ghia, PhD, and their two daughters, Kasturi (Tina) Ghia, MD, and Usha-Kiran (Kiran) Ghia, JD, and five grandchildren. 

Karman and Urmila’s commitment to the University grew from a shared passion for the pursuit of excellence. They are two of the most recognizable figures in the community. Both Drs. Ghia embraced students as family and went to extraordinary lengths to support their discovery of knowledge – and through their embrace, they often blurred the line between the professional and the personal: inviting students to their home, supporting them as family, and investing in their success beyond UC. 

“There’s a joy you see in students’ eyes and faces when they grasp something they did not know. When a student asks a question that requires critical thinking of the material you’ve taught, that’s a great moment and that’s when you start to learn back from the students,” reflected Karman in a 2004 interview.

In honor of Karman’s commitment to his students, his family and the University have established the Professor Kirti “Karman” Ghia Endowed Graduate Student Assistance Fund. Through two annual awards, this fund will benefit students in pursuit of full-time graduate studies in UC CEAS Aerospace Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.

The Fund will give preference to students from India. As a child growing up in Mumbai, India, Karman enjoyed playing cricket and soccer; and his classmates said that he could run so fast no one could catch him. In his life and career, as a father, grandfather, teacher, distinguished professor and world-class research scientist, he never lost this momentum. 

Karman earned his PhD in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, IL. Following his graduation, he joined the UC faculty in 1969 as an Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering in the CEAS Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. He was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 1974, and to full professor in 1978. 

Karman pioneered the field of computational fluid dynamics (CFD), and led research activities in simulation of steady and unsteady separated viscous flows, high-incidence aerodynamics, vortex-dominated flows, non-linear dynamics, turbomachinery flows, flow control, aeroelasticity, development of numerical methods, Large-Eddy Simulation/Direct Numerical Simulation (LES/DNS) of turbulent flows, and grid-generation techniques.

Karman made numerous contributions to his field, and his research was sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Office of Naval Research, Army Research Office, Wright Laboratory, NASA, National Science Foundation, Ohio Aerospace Institute, National Renewable Energy Laboratory,  and Aerospace industry including General Electric and McDonnell Douglas.

Dr. Kirti Ghia

Throughout his career, his colleagues decorated him with recognition. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) named him a Freeman Scholar in 1995-96, and the ASME Fluids Engineering Division honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017. At UC, he was the first faculty member to receive all three major UC Faculty awards: the George Rieveschl Award for Distinguished Scientific Research, the George B. Barbour Award for Superior Student-Faculty Relations, and the Mrs. A.B. “Dolly” Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching.  He was a member of the Graduate Fellows, and of the Academy of Fellows of Teaching and Learning.

Karman held visiting positions at many institutions and organizations, including Institute of Space and Aeronautical Sciences, Institute of Computational Fluid Dynamics, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan; University of Southern California; Institute of Computer Applications in Science and Engineering, NASA Langley Research Center; Polytechnic Institute of New York; Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratories and Brown University.  He served as Co-Editor of the International Computational Fluid Dynamics Journal, and Associate Technical Editor of the ASME Journal of Fluids Engineering and the AIAA Journal.

At UC, Karman was Co-Director of the Computational Fluid Dynamics Research Laboratory (CFDRL), and Director of the Institute of Computational Mechanics.  He had also served on the Fluid Mechanics Technical Committee of ASME, since 1978, AIAA since 1986, and the ASME Society-wide Committee on Honors, 2010-2016; and as Chair of the Honors and Awards Committee of the Fluids Engineering Division of ASME, 1997-2000.  He chaired numerous national and international symposia and meetings.  He was a Life Fellow of ASME, a Fellow of AIAA, and a member of Sigma Xi, Sigma Gamma Tau, and Tau Beta Pi.

Dr. Paul Orkwis, Interim Dean of UC CEAS, remarked on Karman: “No one represented UC better than Dr. Kirti Ghia.  He was an outstanding pillar of our community— his persistence and drive in the pursuit of excellence is what I will remember most about him. I’ll also always remember his phenomenal photographic memory and how he could effortlessly recall conversations verbatim from decades ago. Karman was one of the most remarkable individuals I have known and he’s left a lasting impression of caliber and commitment that is unparalleled. He will be greatly missed amongst the many he helped.” 

A former graduate student of Karman recalls, “Rarely did a week go by when he was not working at least six days a week, with a smile on his face, deriving maximum usefulness out of each day. His work ethic made for an exceptional role model to any student who has the fortune and pleasure of interacting with him.”

Karman once said, “There hasn't been a day when I haven't learned from my students and colleagues. You feel good. Every day, you are gaining. That's a very exciting day...when you've learned something.”

And there is much that Dr. Karman Ghia taught those around him.

Those who loved him and learned from him - his family and his students, and who powered his success, now seek to honor his legacy.

In keeping with the family’s wishes, alumni and friends are invited to honor Dr. Ghia for his dedication to the students of the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Cincinnati by making a gift at For questions regarding giving, please contact Mike Hogan, Senior Director of Development, CEAS at 513-556-1901.