Plate Tectonics and People

A German Seismologist:

Print Print

                           Emil Wiechert

"So far as modern science is concerned, we have to abandon completely the idea that by going into the realm of the small we shall reach the ultimate foundations of the universe. I believe we can abandon this idea without any regret. The universe is infinite in all directions, not only above us in the large but also below us in the small. If we start from our human scale of existence and explore the content of the universe further and further, we finally arrive, both in the large and in the small, at misty distances where first our senses and then even our concepts fail us.”  written by Emil Weichert  in 1896




Biographical Information


1861 - 1897

Born on December 26, 1861 in Tilsit, Prussia.He was the son of Johann (local merchant) and Emilie Wiechert.His mother moved the family to Konigsberg after the death of his father to study at the Albertus-Universitat in 1879. He received his diploma on September 8, 1881 at the age of 20. In 1889 he earned his PhD in Physics from Konigsberg University. His dissertation was on the after-effects of elastic deformations in solids. From 1890 - 1897 he completed theoretical and experimental research while publishing papers on geophysical topics and in 1896 he recieved the title of Honorary Professor.


1897 - 1908

In 1897 he accepted a position at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Gottingen, Germany under a former professor. Within one year after moving to Germany he went on to be named Extraordinary Professor of Geophysics and Director of the new Geophysical Institute in Gottingen; this was the first such position at not only a German Institute, but in the world!! By 1905 he was appointed Full Professor of Geophysics at Gottingen and spent the rest of his career doing research under that title. It was in Gottingen that he met the daughter of a Gottingen lawyer, Ms. Helene Ziebarth.


1908 - 1928

He married Helene Ziebarth in 1908, Emil was 47 and his bride only 38, they never had any children. Emil, his wife, and his mother all lived in Gottingen together until 1927 when his mother passed away. Within the year after his mother's death, in 1928, Emil Wiechert passed away himself at the age of 67.



Contributions to Earth Geophysics


He was a founder of one of the world's most distinguished schools of geophysics, there he taught Beno Gutenberg, who went on to teach at the California Institute of Technology from 1930 - 1960. Beno Gutenberg determined the "Gutenberg Discontinuity", a boundary between the lower mantle and upper core of the Earth. He also taught Zoppritz who went on to make early charts of earthquake wave travel times; he made charts that included all the different types of waves produced by an earthquake.

Some of his own work included producing a new model of Earth's interior which included a core 1500 meters thick with a rocky shell, later revised to include an intermediate layer between the mantle and the core and he also invented the improved form of the inverted-pendulum Seismograph (pictured below) in 1900 that is still used today in some cases.



Wiechert wrote several papers on various topics throughout his life time, one paper was on the "Propagation of Seismic Waves through Earth" in 1907. He even developed a way to do geophysical prospecting by means of artificially producing mini-earthquakes. Not only was he part of the group that founded the internation Association of Seismology in 1905, he also set up Geophysical Observation Centers in German Colonies prior to WWI, which aided in the development of Seismology as a quantitative science.


Other Scientific Contributions

Between the years 1894 and 1933 he wrote several papers on various subjects Including electromagnetic theory, the theory of electrons, aether and Einstein's relativity, and his opinions of the universe.


Electromagnetic Theory Contributations

Wrote a paper on the foundations of electrodynamics which included some of his own research which included, pointing out that x-rays are best understood as wavelenghts with frequencies much higher then visable light based on observation of cathode rays, and deriving equations on resulting scalar and vector potentials in electromagnetics.


The Universe

"The universe in infinite all directions" and therefore will always need to be investigated in as many ways as possible by deicated physicists.


Theory of Electrons

While giving most credit to Lorentz, he did come to some of his own conclusions on the theory of electrons, in which he published several papers.His points included what is necessary for a complete theory, how the laws of nature are introduced into the theory, that electric particles are excitations of aether, and that the mass of built up particle might be completely electromagnetic. He even developed his own theory on the interaction of matter with the aether based on electricity observations.


Aether and Einstein's Relativity

Throughout the time period that Wiechert worked on his theory of electrons his first and last paper dealt with the idea of aether, a special substance that fills matter without any gaps, it can carry electromagnetic field excitations and is generally at rest. With the introduction of Einstein's Theory of Relativity which called aether "superfluous" he made a distinction between restricted and unrestricted relativity. It wasn't until 1920 that Einstein admited to the need of an aether, but by then it just became known as the electromagnetic fields that filled all space



Interesting Facts You Should Know

On January 1, 1903 a continuous seismological recording began at a station in Gottingen using the seismographs invented by Wiechert, and as of today (2001 at least) they are still operational and according to research conducted by Joachim R. R. Ritter they are "...still a fruitful data source for studing the Earth's structure and processes."





"Aether, Einstein Theory". Einstein Relativity theory declares aether necessary! [Flash Video]. October 5, 2006. Retrieved May 25, 2012 from 

"Emil Weichert" Emil Weichert. [Image]. Retrieved May 24, 2012 from

"Emil weichert universe quotes" Tumblr. Follow the World's Creators. Blog retrieved May 25, 2012 from

"Inverted pendulum Seismograph". The Weichert Seismograph. [Image]. Retrieved May 24, 2012 from

Mulligan, Joseph F. (01/01/2001). "Emil Wiechert (1861-1928). Esteemed seismologist, forgotten physicist" American journal of physics (0002-9505), 69 (3), p. 277.

Ritter, Joachim R. R.. (2002). "On the recording characteristics of the orginal Weichert seismographs at Gottingen (Germany)" Journal of Seismology. vol 6. number 4. pages 477 - 486.

"Wiechert, Emil." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. Retrieved May 24, 2012 from