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Donald V. Helmberger (1938–2020)

Lay, Thorne (2021) Donald V. Helmberger (1938–2020). Seismological Research Letters, 92 (2A). pp. 621-622. ISSN 0895-0695.

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Donald V. Helmberger, Ph.D. and Smits Family Professor of Geophysics Emeritus at Caltech, and one of the most impactful seismologists to have lived, died on 13 August 2020. Don was born 23 January 1938, the youngest child of 13, in the small rural town of Perham, Minnesota. He completed his bachelor’s degree in physics at the University of Minnesota in 1961. That summer, he participated in a cruise involving seismic imaging of the oceanic crust in the Bering Sea and was inspired by the challenge of interpreting the recorded seismic waveforms—the beginning of a lifelong passion. That experience drew him to a new focus on geophysics, and he enrolled in the graduate program at the University of California San Diego, where he completed a master’s degree in 1965 and a Ph.D. in 1967. His graduate work was strongly influenced by Russell Raitt and Freeman Gilbert. After a 2 yr appointment as a research associate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working with Frank Press and M. Nafi Toksöz, he joined the faculty for 1 yr at Princeton University. In 1970, Don moved to the Seismological Laboratory at Caltech, where he spent the rest of his career. From 1998 to 2003, he served as Director of the Seismological Laboratory, one of the few intervals in which he let an administrative role divert him from full‐time efforts to understand the wiggles in seismograms. He became emeritus in 2017.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription ItemPartial list (208) of Don’s publications ItemInterview with Donald V. Helmberger of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America (PNAS) profile of Donald V. Helmberger ItemCaltech Memorial
Lay, Thorne0000-0003-2360-4213
Additional Information:© 2021 Seismological Society of America. Data and Resources: Partial list (208) of Don’s publications is available at Interview with Donald V. Helmberger is available at Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America (PNAS) profile of Donald V. Helmberger is available at Caltech Memorial is available at All websites were last accessed in December 2020.
Group:Seismological Laboratory
Issue or Number:2A
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20210120-090243070
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Official Citation:Thorne Lay; Donald V. Helmberger (1938–2020). Seismological Research Letters 2021; 92 (2A): 621–622. doi:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:107586
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:20 Jan 2021 18:46
Last Modified:08 Mar 2021 20:35

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