Leon Knopoff

University of California, Los Angeles

July 1, 1925 - January 20, 2011

Election Year: 1963
Scientific Discipline: Geophysics
Membership Type: Member

Leon Knopoff helped establish the scientific field of geophysics. His work was theoretical and practical, drawing on the study of electromagnetic waves and elastodynamic properties of matter. With this background, Knopoff measured signals from different regions of the Earth to predict the composition of the planet’s core; to identify the fault lines between tectonic plates; to monitor for major seismic events, such as submarine nuclear tests; and to collaborate on efforts to improve the accuracy of earthquake prediction.

Knopoff earned his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and he earned his PhD in mathematics and physics from Caltech in 1949. He taught at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, until he was offered a research appointment at the new Institute of Geophysics at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Knopoff rejoined Caltech for one year to work in the new Seismological Laboratory, but returned to UCLA the following year and remained on the faculty there for duration of his career.

Knopoff was an honorary visiting professor at universities in Europe, Asia, and South America, and he was a fellow of multiple scientific honor societies, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Physical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Knopoff received the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, the H. F. Reid Medal of the Seismological Society of America, and the Golden Badge Award of the European Geophysical Society.

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