Francis Birch

National Medal of Science

Physical Sciences

For outstanding contributions to geophysics which have immeasurably increased our understanding of the composition and the processes of the interior of the earth.

For outstanding contributions to geophysics which have immeasurably increased our understanding of the composition and the processes of the interior of the earth.

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Birth
August 22, 1903
Age Awarded
64
Country of Birth
USA
Key Contributions
Earth Minerals And The Effect Pressure Has On Their Formation
Birch'S Law - Determining Chemical Similarities In Earth Mantle Using Seismic Waves
Awarded by
Lyndon Baines Johnson
Education
Harvard University
Areas of Impact
Energy & Environment
Affiliations
Harvard University
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Much of what we know about the Earth and its four distinct layers can be attributed to a man who was never formally educated in geology. In fact, Francis Birch earned his engineering degree at Harvard, spending two years at an electrical company before dabbling in geophysics with a fellowship studying magnetic properties of matter.

Many of Birch’s studies concerned elastic properties of materials, a measurement for how much something – in this case, elements of the planet’s interior – will compress under pressure. In a 57-page landmark article, published in 1952, Francis Birch described his key findings.

But first, he wrote a joke:

“Unwary readers should take warning that ordinary language undergoes modification to a high-pressure form when applied to the interior of the Earth.” He continued the quip, listing examples of terms such as “vague suggestion” and “perhaps” – arguing they transform into the exaggerative words “positive proof” and “undoubtedly” when pressure is applied.

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