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Finding Aid for the Louis B. Slichter papers, 1906-1984 LSC.1880
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Restrictions on Access
  • Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
  • Preferred Citation
  • Provenance/Source of Acquisition
  • Processing Information
  • UCLA Catalog Record ID
  • Biography/History
  • Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • Related Material

  • Title: Louis B. Slichter papers
    Identifier/Call Number: LSC.1880
    Contributing Institution: UCLA Library Special Collections
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 16.2 linear feet (14 cartons, 2 boxes, 1 flat box, and 1 oversize flat box)
    Date: 1906-1984
    Abstract: The Louis B. Slichter papers contain the professional and personal papers of UCLA Professor Louis B. Slichter (1896-1978). Slichter was the first director of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of California, Los Angeles (1947-1965). Slichter’s research areas included submarine detection during both world wars, application of geophysics to commercial prospecting for ores, electrical conductivity and temperature distribution of the earth’s crust, variations in the gravity of the earth, earth tides and the effect of earth tides on seismology.
    Language of Materials: Materials are primarily in English, some materials in German, French and Italian.
    Physical Location: Stored off-site at SRLF. All requests to access special collections material must be made in advance using the request button located on this page.
    Creator: Slichter, Louis B. (Louis Byrne), 1896-1978

    Restrictions on Access

    COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF: Open for research. All requests to access special collections materials must be made in advance using the request button located on this page.

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    Property rights to the physical object belong to UCLA Library Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where UCLA Library Special Collections does not hold the copyright.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Louis B. Slichter (Collection 1880). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.

    Provenance/Source of Acquisition

    Mary Lou Whaling; gift; 2011.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Richard Fraser, 2014. Description enhanced by Angel Diaz, 2017.
    Materials relating to personnel, for example tenure decisions, letters of reference, and performance evaluations, were not accessioned. Applications for posts at the South Pole were returned to the Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics. In general, routine financial records were also not acquired, although budgets for major projects, such as the South Pole project, are included in the collection.

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 7992933 


    Louis B. Slichter was born on May 19, 1896 in Madison, Wisconsin. His parents were Charles Sumner Slichter, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Mary Louise (Byrne) Slichter. He received his BA from the University of Wisconsin in 1917, having been tutored by Max Mason, a protégé of his father. During the First World War, as an ensign in the US Navy Reserve, he was assigned to do antisubmarine warfare research using sonic detection arrays.
    After the war, Slichter returned to Wisconsin and received his PhD in Physics in 1922. He was employed by the Submarine Signal Corporation in Boston from 1922 to 1924, the subject of his work being echo-sounding. In 1924, he entered into a partnership with Mason and Gauld, using his knowledge of magnetic profiling of the earth to locate ores for mining companies. The partnership dissolved in 1930, but Slichter continued to consult with mining companies for the remainder of his career.
    In 1930, Slichter began a one-year appointment as a research associate at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and was subsequently recruited to the faculty of the Geology Department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he remained until 1945. At MIT, he conducted experiments on the earth's electrical conductivity, measurements of the thickness of the earth's crust and the velocity of seismic waves. In these experiments, he used portable seismology arrays that he designed himself, thus demonstrating the reliability of portable arrays and paving the way for later worldwide seismographic measurements. During the Second World War, he was once again involved in antisubmarine warfare research for the US Navy.
    In 1945, the University of California inaugurated its Institute of Geophysics, to be housed at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus. Slichter was recruited to be its first official director in 1947. In addition to his administrative role in building and expanding the institute, Slichter continued his scientific research, principally investigating the gravity field of the earth. Multiple projects focused on gravitational measurements of the earth’s crust and under its oceans. He also continued work on the assessment, design, and use of scientific instruments.
    Slichter retired from the faculty of UCLA in 1965, but remained active as an emeritus professor, the focus of his research shifting to seismological measurements of the South Pole. He died on March 25, 1978.

    Scope and Content

    The collection consists primarily of the professional, and in some cases personal papers of Professor Louis B. Slichter. The earliest material in the collection are diaries that Slichter kept as a boy. Later diaries have brief notes of his activities during and immediately after the First World War. A richer source of information for Slichter's early years is the family correspondence. The correspondence begins during Slichter's years as an undergraduate, and he wrote frequently to his parents and others during his naval service. None of the letters appears to have undergone military censorship. Slichter talks about his work, his colleagues, and his social activities. Such personal family correspondence continues through the 1920s. During the 1920s, Slichter's scientific research was done for commercial purposes; he was a partner in Mason, Slichter & Gauld, a consulting firm specializing in advising mining companies about prospecting. The collection contains reports the firm submitted to its clients, and correspondence among its principals and their representatives.
    Most of the material between 1930 and 1945, including correspondence, reports, and calculations, involves Slichter's academic life at MIT and his commercial dealings. There is only a small amount io information about Slichter's role in antisubmarine warfare during the Second World War, including a 1945 award for the Naval Ordnance Board acknowledging his contributions. It is during the immediate postwar period (1945-1949) that the Institute of Geophysics was created at UCLA. Several folders of material document the creation and early development of the Institute. Most of the material from the period 1950-1975, which includes correspondence, memos, data, and reports, deals with Slichter's research into earth tides and gravity. There is a great amount of material related to major project that Slichter directed in the 1950s and 1960 to measure gravity differences on the ocean floor, particularly in seismically active regions of the Pacific and Indian Oceans (usually called the "marine gravity" project). Another major project that Slichter directed, after his formal retirement in 1965, was the measurement of earth tides and gravity at the South Pole. Slichter did not go to the Pole himself, but recruited staff, secured funding, selected and arranged the shipping of scientific equipment, and received the reports of project members serving at the Pole. Most of the material pertaining to the project is of a scientific or technical nature, but some letters and reports contain references to personal matters. About half of the South Pole material is situation reports, cables, and letters. There is also a significant amount of material offering information about the equipment used in the project and logistical matters.
    Slichter was professionally active and was a popular speaker. The collection includes reports, programs, correspondence, and papers that document Slichter's attendance at and participation in professional and academic conferences, as well as administrative matters connected with his service as an officer groups such as the American Geophysical Union and International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics. There are also texts of presentations he made primarily to public as opposed to academic, audiences, and material that may have served a dual purpose as both lecture notes and notes for such nonacademic talks.

    Organization and Arrangement

    The collection is arranged in the following series:
    • Series 1: Correspondence, 1916-1978
    • Series 2: Mason and Slichter, 1925-1961
    • Series 3: Gravity Projects files, 1945-1976
    • Series 4: South Pole Project files, 1969-1984
    • Series 5: Patents files, 1928-1967
    • Series 6: Scientific Instruments files, 1924-1974
    • Series 7: Computing files, 1964-1975
    • Series 8: Prospecting files, 1945-1966
    • Series 9: Geophysics files, 1931-1975
    • Series 10: Electromagnetism files, 1953-1960
    • Series 11: American Geophysical Union (AGU), 1961-1965
    • Series 12: International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG), 1954-1967
    • Series 13: Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP), 1944-1973
    • Series 14: UCLA/UC files, 1953-1975
    • Series 15: Writings, 1918-1967
    • Series 16: Biographical files, 1918-1978
    • Series 17: Subjects files, 1920-1974

    Related Material

    Leon Knopoff papers (Collection 1876) Available at Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    University of California, Los Angeles. Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics--Faculty--Archives.
    Geophysicists--California--Los Angeles--Archives.
    Prospecting--Geophysical methods.