The Vetlesen Prize


Vetlesen Citation

Chain Leib Pekeris

Your wide ranging and penetrating analyses of dynamical problems
Of atmospheres, oceans, and the planetary interior have given us new insight into the behavior of complex geophysical systems - insight based not on naive physical intuition but on the carefully computed properties of realistic models. You have applied your formidable mathematical skill to problem of great geophysical significance, often long before such significance was generally recognized. Elastic waves in the sea and the earth, radio wave in the atmosphere, tides of the atmosphere and the oceans, convection in the earth, the main magnetic field of the earth, free oscillations of the planet as a whole - even the Helium atom and stellar pulsations- have attracted your interest and as a consequence are now better understood.

As Head of the Mathematical Physics Group at Columbia University during the war - as Head of the Department of Applied Mathematics at the Weizmann Institute to Israel you have set the tone and helped to provide tin tools for the work of many others. You have attended to the economic needs of your own country in the search for oil and water.

It is my pleasure on behalf of the Trustees of the Vetlesen Foundation and the Trustees of Columbia University to welcome you Dr. Pekeris to the distinguished company of scholars to whom the Vetlesen Prize has been awarded.

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Fred Knubel, Director

Chaim Leib Perkeris, the mathematician and educator, has won Columbia University's 1974 Vetlesen Prize in the earth sciences, it was announced yesterday (Thursday) by Columbia President William J. McGill.

Dr. Pekeris was cited as "an outstanding pioneer in the application of advanced methods of applied mathematics to the solution of a wide range of fundamental geological and geophysical problems." Dr. Pekeris is Distinguished Institute Professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science at Rehovoth, Israel.

The Vetlesen Prize -- a gold medal and $25,000 --recognizes "achievement in the sciences resulting in a clearer understanding of the earth, its history, or its relation to the universe." It has been called the Nobel Prize of the earth sciences.

Dr. Pekeris is known for his studies of convection within the earth, propagation of sound in layered media, tides computed on a global scale and certain properties of the helium atom. His work on the modes of free oscillation of the earth the Vetlesen jury noted, "will certainly become a classic." He has also worked on the quantum theory of two-atom molecules and the theory of the earth's magnetic field.

With his associates at the Weizmann Institute, Dr. Pekeris designed and constructed three computers, among the fastest in the world of their type and, the jury stated, "uniquely fitted for geophysical problems."

Among earlier papers was his study of convective motion within the earth and his classic paper on the "Theory of Propagation of Explosive Sound in Shallow Water," in Memoir 27 of the Geological Society of America published in 1948, which has guided much later research in seismology.

In 1959, with Alterman and Jarosch, Dr. Pekeris calculated the frequencies at which the earth vibrates when jarred by earthquakes. These calculations, the most detailed of their kind, provided a foundation for rapid advances in seismological science and have been of particular importance in the determination of the structure of the crust and mantle of the earth and in distinguishing atomic explosions from earthquakes. His computed frequencies were confirmed by the analysis of the waves of the great Chilean earthquake of 1960.

Also in 1959, with Dr. M.Dishon, an associate at the Institute he computed heights and times of the occurrence of ocean tides on a global basis. The calculation was performed on the computers at the Weizmann Institute.

Dr. Pekeris has lectured extensively in the U.S. and abroad and is the author of numerous scientific papers. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences (U.S.) in 1952, Foreign Associate of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1964, won the 1966 Rothschild Prize in Mathematics and, in 1971, was elected foreign and honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

A U.S. citizen, Dr. Pekeris took up residence in Israel in 1948 and joined the Weizmann Institute as head of its Department of Applied Mathematics in 1949. He relinquished this post in 1973 when he was honored by the school with the title Distinguished Institute Professor.

Born in Alytus, Lithuania, June 15, 1908, Dr. Pekeris earned the B.S. in 1929 and the Sc.D. in 1933. both at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was a Guggenheim Fellow from 1929 to 1931. For two years he was a Fellow in Geophysics of the General Education Board of the Rockefeller Foundation -- in 1934-35 at M.I.T. and in 1935-36 at the University of Cambridge, England. From 1936 to 1940 he was a research associate at M.I.T. and in 1940-41 taught geophysics there. In 1941 he became a staff member of the Division of War Research at Columbia University, and in 1945 he was named director of the University's Mathematical Physics Group. He held this post until his move to Israel in 1948.

The 1972 Vetlesen Prize winner was William A. Fowler, physicist at the California Institute of Technology. Other winners were: in 1971, S. Keith Runcorn, Allan V. Cox and Richard R. Doell; in 1968, Francis Birch and Sir Edward C. Bullard; in 1966, Jan Hendrik Oort; in 1964, Arthur Holmes and Pentti Eelis Eskola; in 1962, Sir Harold Jeffreys and Felix A. Vening Meinesz, and in 1960, Maurice Ewing.

The 1974 Vetlesen Prize will be presented to Dr. Pekeris at an awards dinner in New York on October 24.




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