National Medal of Science
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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BirthAugust 22, 1903
Country of BirthUSA
Key ContributionsEarth Minerals And The Effect Pressure Has On Their Formation
Birch'S Law - Determining Chemical Similarities In Earth Mantle Using Seismic Waves
Awarded byLyndon Baines Johnson
Areas of ImpactEnergy & Environment
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.