Skip navigation

A History of Innovation...

At the close of World War II, Purdue University was positioned to play a leading role in one of the most incredible periods of technological development in human history. Some of the most exciting work was in jet propulsion and rockets with implications for industry and national defense. The consensus among scientists was that universities in the United States needed to become better equipped to educate engineers for these critical fields.

In 1946, Maurice J. Zucrow, a Purdue graduate working as an engineering technical assistant to the executive vice president of Aerojet in Pasadena, California, was selected to establish and teach graduate-level courses in gas turbines and jet propulsion, as well as develop a grant-supported research program. Soon after Zucrow began teaching at Purdue, it became evident that a major physical facility was needed to provide adequate research space for Zucrow and the others he would recruit. The Office of Naval Research awarded Purdue a $20,000 grant for the construction of a liquid-fuel rocket test facility, and the Purdue Research Foundation matched those funds.

The Rocket Propulsion Laboratory, constructed in 1948 with the available funds, provided space for two rocket motor firing cells, a common control and instrument room, a small machine shop for rocket motor construction, a chemistry laboratory, and space for three on-site graduate student desks with use based on a first come first served basis. Since there was no electric power supplied to that part of the airport, power was supplied by a four-cylinder diesel electrical generator set obtained as war surplus from the Navy.

Despite its modest beginnings, the labs generated groundbreaking research that paved the way for new industry standards and improved engine design. One research project in particular was used to design the main engine for the space shuttles used by NASA. Through the decades, Purdue became a leader in turbine engine cooling, combustion, jet propulsion, and alternative energy research.

...Continues Today

In 1998, on the occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the then-named Thermal Sciences and Propulsion Center, the research complex was renamed in honor of its founder, The Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories.

The Zucrow Laboratories research facilities now occupy a 24-acre site adjacent to the Purdue University Airport with research including unsteady aerodynamics of turbo machinery, aeroacoustics, combustion, measurement and control, experimental and computational fluid mechanics, particle flow heat transfer and atomization processes.

The Zucrow Labs consists of six buildings housing 22 individual laboratories, a computer lab with two server clusters on-site, a professional machine shop, and air compressors and air tanks capable of delivering 3,300 cubic feet of air at 2200 psi. Associated with eight of the 22 individual labs are a total of 18 reinforced concrete test cells appropriate for research in high pressure combustion, turbomachinery, and energy research.

Sixteen faculty are active at Zucrow and another comparable number are affiliated with the center. One hundred graduate students are currently involved in work at the center.

With faculty and students from the School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics working on a broad variety of research projects, Zucrow Labs is continuing to keep Purdue at the forefront of jet propulsion and energy research.