1956: Foundation of the laboratory

During 1955/56 the first shock tube experiments have been conducted at the Institute of Mechanics of the RWTH Aachen University. The Shock Wave Laboratory was founded in 1956 by the leader of the Institute of Mechanics, Prof. Fritz Schultz-Grunow. However, on the campus no suitable rooms were available where the laboratory could have been built up. Dr. Helmut Weymann (at that time assistant professor at the institute, later professor of Mechanics at the University of Rochester, N.Y.) discovered a former concrete air-raid shelter at Aachen main station as a possible location for the Shock Wave Laboratory. In the following, this low air-raid shelter was restored, an arduous work, which was mostly done by the institute members.

1957: First shock tunnel

Finally, in winter 1956/57 the first small shock tube was in operation. It mainly consisted of a customary in trade square tube of 46 mm inner diameter and 3 m length as low pressure section and a circular high pressure section of 70 mm diameter and 1.5 m length. The total hardware costs of this tube were lower than 25,- EUR. The required connections and flanges were manufactured in the workshop of the institute. For the measurement of the shock velocities, ignition plugs were used (the gas ionized by the shock changes the resistance between the electrodes), and a Tektronix oscillograph for the recording of the signals. Using hydrogen as high pressure gas (0.5 - 1 MPa) and argon as low pressure gas (103 - 104 Pa) shock Mach numbers of about 10 could be achieved. At the endwall of the tube the gas heated by these shocks reached temperatures up to 10.000 K; its blue-white lightening could clearly be demonstrated as the tube endwall was made by glass.

In the following, the measurement techniques have been extended; more powerful shock tubes were developed, with respect to the cleanness of the test conditions (tubes made of special steel) and also to the pressure load capacity. The first bigger shock tube, which was already put into operation in 1958, was designed for a working pressure of 100 MPa. Prof. Hans Grönig, who mainly influenced the set-up of the Aachen Shock Wave Laboratory, was head of the laboratory since 1968 until 1996

1970: Move into the today’s building

With respect to the safety of the environment the low air-raid shelter was an ideal location for the Shock Wave Laboratory. However, because of the very thick concrete walls and the double doors it was extremely risky for the members of the laboratory. Therefore, in 1963/64 the plan arose to build a new laboratory which guarantees the highest safety as possible for both the environment and the members. This new building in the Aachener suburb Laurensberg lies besides a landscape protection region and houses the Shock Wave Laboratory since 1970. In 1996 Prof. Herbert Olivier took the lead of the laboratory.

2020: Reorganisation

Begin of 2020 the junior professorship "Physico-Chemical Fundamentals of Combustion" and the shock wave laboratory were merged to the "Chair of High Pressure Gas Dynamis" led by Prof. Dr.-Ing. Karl Alexander Heufer. Thereby, the established fileds of research ventered around gas dynamics were extended by the fundamentals research on the combustion kinetics of conventional and alternative fuels.

Today, different experimental facilities exist, e.g., bigger shock tubes (for a working pressure up to 150 MPa) which can alternatively be run as hypersonic shock tunnels, several conventional shock tubes made of stainless steel, one shock tube to investigate transonic flows in a high Reynolds number range and three facilities for kinetic investiagtions [a shock tube and two RCMs (rapid compression machines)]. The largest test facility is the shock tunnel TH2 with a length of 40 m for experimental investigations of the hypersonic flow at space planes and reentry vehicles, respectively. Here, the simulation of the flow field during the reentry in the earth’s atmosphere is of special interest. Another smaller shock tunnel is used to investigate the acceleration of metal particles in supersonic flow where very high particle velocities are achieved. This is important for the development of new and improved coating techniques for industrial application. At least, a new facility has been built to deform metallic hollow sections by means of detonation waves. The promising advantages of this gasdynamic deformation process compared to common techniques are to be systematically investigated.