University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota: Department of Mechanical Engineering

Professor Eckert's mysterious safe cracked

For decades, it was a mystery what was inside a safe owned by the late Professor Ernst Eckert. But the secret was finally revealed.


Professor Eckert was born in 1904 in Prague, where he studied at the German Institute of Technology. During World War II, he developed methods for cooling overheated jet engines at a research laboratory in Prague. He immigrated to the United States after the war, and served as a consultant to the U.S. Air Force and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics before coming to Minnesota.

He joined the University of Minnesota’s Department of Mechanical Engineering in 1951 and quickly became a pioneer and legacy in the field of heat transfer and thermodynamics. During his tenure in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Eckert performed classified research in the 1960s and 1970s.

In addition to being named to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering in 1970, Professor Eckert held seven honorary doctorates, authored more than 500 articles, and received several medals for his contributions to science. He retired in 1973, but continued contributing to the department. His influence is still present in the department even after his death in 2004, just a few months shy of his 100th birthday.

On Thursday, March 27, plans were made to crack open the safe that had sat in his office for decades. The FBI, Department of Defense, and the General Council’s Office were on hand in case classified materials were discovered.

Many staff and faculty came to watch this momentous occasion, but the safe proved to be difficult. It took roughly an hour to open it and speculation ran wild as the audience waited.

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So what was inside the safe? Inside was paperwork documenting Eckert’s research, about half of which was taken by the FBI due to it being confidential. The rest will be reviewed by the Department and archived.

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