Beno Gutenberg

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Beno Gutenberg
Beno Gutenberg headshot.jpg
Latest company California Institute of Technology
PhD Physics
PhD university University of Gottingen

Beno Gutenberg (June 4, 1889 – January 25, 1960) made considerable contributions to the science of seismology, advancing the understanding of both the earth and of earthquakes, both theoretically and experimentally.

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 the 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 where 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.[1]

Biography Citation for the SEG Medal (now called the Reginald Fessenden Award) 1961 [2]

Contributed by Frank Press

Professor Beno Gutenberg's contributions in seismology unquestionably qualify him for the title of Dean of Modern Seismology. They began prior to World War I and continued up to the time of his death. He has worked on every significant problem concerning the physics of the earth's interior, as well as having made contributions in meteorology and atmospheric physics. There is hardly a single paper in physics of the earth's interior which does not refer to his work. His many awards and honorary degrees were justifiably earned.

A few of his many outstanding contributions are.

1. The precise determination of the depth of the earth's core.
2. Determination of the travel times of seismic waves.
3. Studies on the seismic geography of the world.
4. Techniques for evaluating the magnitude and energy of earthquakes.
5. The temperature and physical properties within the earth as a function of depth.
6. Structure of the earth's crust and outer mantle.
7. Mechanism of earthquakes.

Professor Gutenberg has published several hundred papers, including 7 books. His most recent work was published only a few weeks before his death. Although he retired from The California Institute of Technology in 1959, he prosecuted his research vigorously almost up to the time of his passing.

It can truly be said that Professor Gutenberg will be missed by his colleagues and friends. He was a noble man, kind, gentle, whose main purpose in life was to search for scientific truth. He influenced many geophysicists, who will always be indebted to him for his inspiration and has selfless efforts on their behalf. His warming gentle personality will be remembered by all of us. Reginald Fessenden medal was awarded to him posthumously.


  1. Beno Gutenberg Wikipedia page
  2. Awards Citations of SEG (1998) SEG Press, Tulsa, Oklahoma p. 134.