UTIAS celebrates 75 years of excellence

Written by Joan Wilson DaCosta

On May 10, alumni from the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) travelled from far and wide to walk the halls of their alma mater and commemorate 75 years of impact in the field of aeronautical engineering. Lab tours and research demonstrations brought together the UTIAS community — including faculty, staff, students and notable alumni — to celebrate the founding of the institute and its successes over the years.  

In 1946, Gordon Patterson (UTIAS) was 38 years old and found himself at one of life’s big crossroads. He was a highly sought-after international expert in aerodynamics with six or seven offers from reputable institutions on the table, but it was the offer from the University of Toronto that interested him most.  

Any of the other offers would allow Patterson almost guaranteed success as a researcher in the rapidly growing area of aerodynamics and gas dynamics. However, as a Canadian who had worked in Britain, Australia, and the US, Patterson noted on a road trip across Canada in 1945 that aeronautical education in this country barely existed. 

The U of T offer beckoned as something that would provide him with a life’s mission to do something for the greater good. And so, Patterson decided he would not join U of T unless they agreed to establish a department of aeronautical engineering.  

UTIAS is celebrating its 75th anniversary because Professor Sidney Smith, then president of U of T, agreed with Patterson’s estimation of the growing importance of aeronautical engineering. In 1949, Canada’s only Institute of Aerophysics (UTIA) was established. UTIA was renamed UTIAS in 1963 to recognize the growing areas of research and education at the institute. 

Patterson successfully steered the institute for 25 years. His legacy has continued with succeeding directors, and it is with the help of these leaders that UTIAS became, and continues to be, an internationally recognized institute out of which leading-edge research and many firsts have come. 

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of students in producing this world-class research. Teaching and research are intrinsically linked by a reciprocal relationship. On the undergraduate level, UTIAS is rooted in the Engineering Science program at the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.  

And at the graduate level, professors teach and collaborate with students who come not only from the Engineering Science program, but from other internationally recognized institutions — factors that inspire teaching and research at an elevated level. The notable success of UTIAS alumni is testament to the success of the institution. 

View a selection of photographs that capture the excitement of the 75th anniversary celebration event. The full event album is available on Flickr.