Raoul Vajk

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Raoul Vajk
Raoul Vajk headshot.png
Membership Charter Member
PhD university University of Science, Budapest


Raoul Vajk (1896-1980) was a pioneer in the development and practice of exploration geophysics. His death on October 4, 1980, was a loss for the profession and for the many who benefited from his counsel.

Perhaps his most enduring innovation was the concept that for exploration, regional gravity should portray the gravity effects of deep seated masses which are not of immediate exploration interest. In 1932, regional gravity was conventionally shown as a series of equidistant, parallel straight lines representing a mathematically determined, fixed ayerage gradient.

The use of curved isograms to reflect large scale, deep-seated geology was thus unorthodox and controversial. Now, of course, such geological interpretation of physical data is universally accepted.

Dr. Vajk published more than thirty geophysical papers, mainly on gravity interpretations, but including one on refraction seismology. In recognition of his pioneering contributions, the SEG awarded him the Reginald Fessenden Medal in 1961.

As an explorationist, his first success came in 1929, when from torsion balance data he correctly predicted a salt overhang on the north flank of Barber?s Hill. In spite of 12 dry holes drilled by others in the immediate area, he persuaded his client to drill through the overhang. The result was a technical success and a profitable oil discovery.

Dr. Vajk was a native of Hungary; his life was greatly affected by two World Wars. World War I upset his educational plans, and after obtaining a Ph.D. in political science and a degree in mechanical engineering, his desire to work as an engineer was frustrated by the post-war depression. Because his sister ( a mathematical physicist) was working on the development of an automatic torsion balance, he became interested in geophysics and began studies which earned him the Ph.D. in cosmography, summa cum laude, from the University of Science in Budapest. To get his first professional job, in 1928 he had to go to Texas, where he interpreted torsion balance data, made his first successful oil well location, and met the Texas girl whom he married.

In 1932 he returned to Hungary, becoming chief geophysicist for MAORT, an affiliate of Standard Oil Co. (N.J). When the Communists took over in Hungary after World War II, Dr. Vajk emigrated to the U.S. in 1946 to work in the New York office of SONJ (now Exxon), and became a U.S. citizen in 1948. He served in a research and advisory capacity for Exxon's foreign and domestic affiliates until 1961, when reached mandatory retirement age. Then he worked in oceanography at Lamont Geological Observatory until at 70 he attained Columbia University's retirement age. For the next three years he worked for Alpine Geophysical Associates, and served for a semester as associate professor of geology at New York University. After a few months of relative inactivity, in 1968 he became professor of oceanography at California State University in California, Pennsylvania. There he gave his last lecture and retired December 19, 1964, on his 78th birthday.

Dr. Vajk was quiet and unassuming but did not hesitate to defend strongly the scientific ideas he believed, nor to express his great aversion to Communism, He worked with tenacious energy, but his gentle kindness and unfailing courtesy endeared him to his associates. A gentleman in every sense of the word, he will be warmly remembered by family, friends and colleagues.