Beno Gutenberg

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Beno Gutenberg
Beno Gutenberg.jpg
Born June 4, 1889
Darmstadt, German Empire
Died January 25, 1960 (1960-01-26) (aged 70)
Pasadena, California
Nationality Germany
Alma mater University of Göttingen
Awards William Bowie Medal (1953)
Scientific career
Fields seismology
Institutions California Institute of Technology
Doctoral advisor Emil Wiechert

Beno Gutenberg (/ˈɡtənbɜːrɡ/; June 4, 1889 – January 25, 1960) was a German-American seismologist who made several important contributions to the science. He was a colleague and mentor of Charles Francis Richter at the California Institute of Technology and Richter's collaborator in developing the Richter magnitude scale for measuring an earthquake's magnitude.

Early life

Gutenberg was born in Darmstadt, Germany, and obtained his doctorate in physics from the University of Göttingen in 1911. His advisor was Emil Wiechert. During World War I, Gutenberg served in the German army as a meteorologist in support of gas warfare operations.[1]

Gutenberg held positions at the University of Strasbourg, which he lost when Strasbourg became French in 1918. After some years during which he had to sustain himself with managing his father's soap factory, he obtained in 1926 a junior professorship at University of Frankfurt-am-Main, which was poorly paid.

Although he was already, in the 1920s, one of the leading seismologists worldwide and definitely the leading seismologist in Germany, he was still dependent on the position in his father's factory; however, he continued his research in his spare time.


In 1928, the attempt to become the successor of his academic teacher, Emil Wiechert, in Göttingen, failed. There are hints that Gutenberg's Jewish[2] background might have played a role because, already in the 1920s, there were strong antisemitic tendencies in German universities. For similar reasons, he was also not accepted for a professorship in Potsdam to become the successor of Gustav Angenheister.

Since Gutenberg could not sustain a career of scientific work in Germany, he accepted a position as Professor of Geophysics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena in 1930,[3] becoming founding director of the Seismological Laboratory when it was transferred to Caltech from Carnegie. Even if he had obtained a full professorship in Germany, he would have lost it in 1933 anyway like so many other scientists of Jewish ancestry, at least 30 of whom emigrated to the United States under Gutenberg's sponsorship.


Gutenberg, especially in his collaboration with Charles Francis Richter, made the California Institute of Technology Seismological Laboratory the leading seismological institute worldwide. Collaborating with Richter, Gutenberg developed a relationship between seismic magnitude and energy, represented in this equation:

It gives the energy given from earthquakes from seismic waves in ergs. Another famous result, known as Gutenberg–Richter law, provides probability distribution of earthquakes for a given energy.

He also worked on determining the depth of the core-mantle boundary as well as other properties of the interior of the earth.

In 1952, Gutenberg received the Prix Charles Lagrange from the Académie royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique. [1] Gutenberg remained director of the Seismological Laboratory until 1957, when he was succeeded by Frank Press.


  • — (1960), "Low-Velocity Layers in the Earth, Ocean, and Atmosphere.", Science (published Apr 1, 1960), 131 (3405), pp. 959–965, Bibcode:1960Sci...131..959G, doi:10.1126/science.131.3405.959, PMID 17756389
  • Buwalda, JP; — (1935), "Investigation of overthrust faults by seismic methods", Science (published Apr 19, 1935), 81 (2103), pp. 384–386, Bibcode:1935Sci....81..384B, doi:10.1126/science.81.2103.384, PMID 17769434

See also


  1. ^ Biographical Memoirs of the NAS, vol. 76, p. 121
  2. ^ Gary Shapiro (August 26, 2011). "Scientist Who Fled Nazis Helped Create Scale for Measuring Earthquakes". The Jewish Daily Forward. Retrieved 2015-04-18.
  3. ^ "Obituary: Beno Gutenberg, Seismologist, 70". The New York Times. January 28, 1960. Retrieved 2012-01-24.

External links

  • Biography at the American Geophysical Union website
  • Biography at the European Geosciences Union website
  • Leon Knopoff on Gutenberg, National Academy of Science
  • Hertha Gutenberg Oral History, Caltech Archives
  • Biography of Beno Gutenberg by Leon Knopoff at Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 76 (1999)
Retrieved from ""
This content was retrieved from Wikipedia :
This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article "Beno Gutenberg"; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA