Victor Vacquier

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Victor Vacquier
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Victor Vacquier Sr. (1907-2009) was known for his many contributions to the magnetic method, including the invention of the flux-gate magnetometer and the airborne magnetometer.

Biography Citation for the Reginald Fessenden Award 1975

The SEG Medal is awarded for a specific technical contribution to geophysics; an invention, a concept, or a discovery. Victor Vacquier is therefore officially honored today for the invention of the airborne magnetometer, originally known as the Magnetic Airborne Detector or MAD. Actually, one could equally well recognize a number of other inventions, concepts, and observations--most of them related to magnetics and many of them with certain elements of madness.

Victor Vacquier was born in Leningrad in 1907, on October 13--so that today's award is in a way a birthday honor. He was raised in France, received his education at the University of Wisconsin, and has since worked in geophysics with almost equal time spent in industry and university laboratories. Following a brief period as an instructor at the University of Wisconsin, he worked for Gulf Research Laboratories through the 1930s. It is there he invented the fluxgate magnetometer. In 1941, with the beginning of World War II, he went to the Airborne Instruments Laboratory of Columbia University, where he participated in the application of the fluxgate magnetometer to the detection of submerged submarines. It became apparent that the device had possibilities for studies of geologic features, and immediately after the war it was tested as an airborne survey tool. The outcome is now well known; mapping by airborne magnetometers has covered the earth.

The airborne magnetometer was a hard act to follow, but in 1951 Victor Vacquier followed it by the publication (with Steenland, Henderson, and Zietz) of the memoir on Interpretation of Aeromagnetic Maps, the indispensable handbook on the subject.

The impact of the original instrument did not end there, of course. The airborne instrument was modified for use at sea, towed behind a surface ship, and early work by Mason and Raft revealed the amazing lineations of magnetic anomalies on the sea floor. After an interlude at Sperry Gyroscope, where he was in charge of development of the Mark 19 and Mark 23 gyrocompasses (still in general use), and at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, where he developed a new electrical method of exploring for fresh water in arid areas, Vic came to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to take charge of magnetic surveys. A noteworthy discovery, obtained by use of the shipboard magnetometer, was the 1420-kin offset along with Mendocino Fracture Zone. This work; the widespread surveys (by many investigators) of magnetic lineations of the sea floor; and Vic's own measurements of the remnant magnetism of seamounts, which revealed that many of these undersea volcanoes had somehow moved tremendous distances from their latitude of origin, became the basic data from which emerged the theory of plate tectonics. It can therefore be said that Vic's work has moved the earth-or at least significant portions of it.

Other of Vic's activities should not be ignored. During the 1960s he developed and put into use a set of sea-floor magnetic observatories, which have given us information about the electrical conductivity and equation of state deep in the mantle. He has been in charge of the program of heat-flow measurements of Scripps, making geothermal measurements both at sea and on land. Recently he has been working on measurements of the heat flow in the oil fields, which bid fair to provide another useful technique for the explorationist. Despite his official "retirement" this year, he is as active and inventive as ever. It has been an honor and a pleasure to work with Vic and to be able to write this citation for a man who will never talk about his own accomplishments.


Obituary, LA Times, 24 January 2009, [1]