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IIHR Turns 100!

Posted on March 3rd, 2020

A Century of Tow Tanks and Tributaries

by Margot  Dick


IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering is celebrating 100 years of research, education, and service in 2020, and welcomes you to the celebration!

Two photos sit, overlapping, one of the hydraulics lab in 2020 and one from 1920

Then and Now: On the left is the Stanley Hydraulics Lab as it was in 1920 and on the right is what it looks like in 2020

The research center, fondly referred to as IIHR, is part of the University of Iowa College of Engineering. It is also home to the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) and the Iowa Geological Survey. The original lab, measuring only 22 by 22 feet, opened its doors in 1920 and has been the home of hydrology and fluids-related research at the university ever since.

IIHR has had eight directors, each of whom led the lab to new heights and in different directions. Together they ushered IIHR through a century of education, research, and modeling that brought international recognition to the laboratory. From river experiments to plumbing contracts to fish passage projects, IIHR has had a hand in a wide range of fluids-related research. Over the past 100 years, IIHR experienced hardships, such as the Great Depression, as well as triumphs, such as pioneering research on sanitation in the home.

Each director brought his own unique ideas to the table on what the institute’s focus should be. Director F.M. Dawson, for instance, brought national plumbing contracts with him when he arrived from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1936 to serve as the new University of Iowa dean of engineering and director of IIHR. His continued research eventually landed IIHR the coveted position of the National Plumbing Laboratory for the United States government. While Dawson pushed the boundaries of practical, applied research, his successor, Director Hunter Rouse, known to many as “the father of modern hydrology,” preferred to focus on the fundamentals of water flow.

A photo of Iowa's Wave Basin

Iowa’s wave basin includes a simulated beach for more in-depth hydrodynamic testing

With its ever-growing alumni community of hydroscientists and engineers, IIHR is now stronger than ever. Recent IIHR expansions have included partnerships with Iowa Geographical Survey and the Water Sustainability Initiative, as well as major research projects such as the Iowa Watershed Approach. IIHR research has also included oxbow restorations, hydroelectric dam modeling, and ship hydrodynamics research. In 2010, IIHR finished construction of a state-of-the-art wave basin used to gather data on ship maneuverability and seaworthiness for the U.S. Navy. For decades, IIHR has conducted physical modeling for sewer modernization projects in cities such as St. Louis, London, and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The Iowa Flood Center, founded by former IIHR Director Larry Weber and current IFC Director Witold Krajewski, celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019 and will be hosting an international conference on flood management in August 2020.

Today Gabriele Villarini serves as IIHR’s director. As an alumnus of the University of Iowa and the IIHR graduate program, Villarini has taken on a legacy that is now a century long and filled with remarkable people and revolutionary ideas.

“I took this position with joy and enthusiasm. But also with a great sense of responsibility because I recognize the impact of the decisions I make as director,” Villarini says.

Efforts to capture the last 100 years of research and accomplishments of IIHR in a single article would be futile, so over the course of the next year the institute will celebrate its 100th anniversary with several events open to the public:

  • The Big Splash!
    Tino Wallenda Rides across a high wire on his bike

    Tightrope performer Tino Wallenda Rides across a high wire on his bike

    • A fantastic party on the banks of the Iowa River including acts from circus groups, art installations, and interactive entertainment for all ages
    • August 14–16, 2020
    • Visit The Big Splash! website to learn more
  • A River Flowed Through It: Iowa’s Legacy in Fluid Mechanics
    • Visit the IIHR centennial museum exhibit in person in the basement of the Old Capitol Museum, open now through October of 2020!
    • Walk through the history of IIHR, including photographs, a timeline, and physical models straight from the IIHR archives
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