Although he could not have known it at the time, his stay at MIT would be a short and somewhat unhappy one. Part of the problem was that MIT in 1935, even as a top-flight technical school, gave short shrift to aeronautical engineering. But another part of the problem was more personal: Tsien and MIT were simply not a match.
At MIT, aeronautics had long been more a sport than a topic of serious study, as students on skates held glider races from the frozen Charles River. The glimmerings of a formal program came in 1913, when A. A. Merrill, a former airplane designer, organized a series of informal talks on aviation. Possibly because of the success of the lectures, MIT allocated thirty-five hundred dollars to set up a laboratory, built a four-foot wind tunnel, and, the following year, offered a graduate course in aeronautical engineering -- the first of its kind in the United States. The first student to get a master's degree in the program was the Chinese scholar H. K. Chow. He was followed by several others from his homeland, most of whom obtained prominent positions in government and academia when they returned home.
The program expanded rapidly during World War I. Faced with an acute shortage of aircraft, the military used the MIT wind tunnel facilities to test new