Oral Histories

Interview of Leon Knopoff

UCLA faculty member in geophysics and research musicologist.
Science, Medicine, and Technology
UCLA and University of California History
UCLA Faculty
Benschoten, William Van
Knopoff, Leon
Persons Present:
Knopoff and Van Benschoten.
Place Conducted:
Knopoff’s office at UCLA.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by William Van Benschoten, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; B.A., History, UC Riverside, 1990; M.A., History, UC Riverside, 1991; C.Phil., History, UCLA, 1995.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Leon and Joanne Knopoff were then given an opportunity to review the transcript and they made a number of corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
9 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Growing up in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles—Family background—Role of tradition and religion in Knopoff’s childhood—The Labor Movement in 1920s and 1930s Los Angeles—More on family background—Father’s pacifism—Parents’ politics—Family life while growing up—Growing up during the Great Depression.
More on family life while growing up—Early education—Piano lessons, early exposure to classical music, and the importance of musical education—Teaching musical acoustics—Interest in music endures at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)—UCLA Institute of Ethnomusicology—More on early education—Leg and knee problems—High school classes in math and science—Enduring interest in solving puzzles—Attends Los Angeles City College— College physics—Transfers to California Institute of Technology (Caltech)—Attends graduate school in physics.
Parental expectations concerning college—Father’s careers while Knopoff was growing up—Summer work while in high school and college—Influential teachers—Attending Caltech during the Second World War—More on influential teachers—More on attending Caltech during the Second World War Attending Caltech during the Second World War—Listening to music on the radio and attending movies as a family—Effect of family’s nomadism—High school chemistry competition.
More on childhood—Witnessing the body of a dead cousin after a hit and run accident—Choice of physics as a field of study—Ph.D. oral examinations at Caltech—Deciding to attend graduate school at Caltech—Knopoff’s graduate work in frequency modulated radio at Caltech—Knopoff’s fathers’ death—Leaves Caltech to teach at Miami University (“Miami”)—William H. Pickering—More on graduate school at Caltech—More on leaving Caltech to teach at Miami— Adjusting culturally to Ohio.
Teaching at Miami—Completes thesis and receives Ph.D. from Caltech—Knopoff is hired to conduct research at UCLA—Leaves Miami for position at UCLA—Louis B. Slichter—Harald Sverdrup and others establish the Institute of Geophysics at UCLA.
More on the establishment of the Institute of Geophysics at UCLA— Knopoff’s research at the Institute of Geophysics—Publishes his first paper—Helps recruit Gordon MacDonald—Works on the Seismic Scattering Project—Meets and marries his wife, Joanne Van Cleef Knopoff—Knopoff’s mother’s death—Interest in the philosophy of Hans Reichenbach—The variety of resources and stimuli at UCLA.
More on the variety of resources and stimuli at UCLA.
The loyalty oath—Cooperation and competition between the different University of California campuses—The development of Knopoff’s interest in attenuation—The development of long-period seismometers and the World-Wide Standard Seismographic Network (WWSSN).
More on the development of long-period seismometers and the WWSSN—Travels to the South Pole for WWSSN—Significance of the Earth’s poles for seismographic research—The activities of the Institute of Geophysics—Knopoff’s decision not to leave UCLA for Caltech.
More on Knopoff’s decision not to leave UCLA for Caltech—Devises a method for dating ancient pottery using thermoluminescence—Joins the UCLA Institute of Ethnomusicology—Reconciling seemingly disparate interests—Research concerning the structure of the upper mantle and geological inversion—The International Geophysical Year and the Upper Mantle Project—International scientific inquiry and exchanges—Knopoff appointed as the UCLA campus director of the Institute of Geophysics.
Knopoff is voted into the National Academy of Sciences—Future challenges for the Institute of Geophysics—Frank Press—The sources of Knopoff’s scientific creativity—Important teachers and Knopoff’s own teaching philosophy—Complex systems—Research on model and theoretical seismicity.
More on research on model and theoretical seismicity—Government programs concerning earthquake prediction.
More on government programs concerning earthquake prediction— Challenges in earthquake prediction—Changes in building codes related to earthquakes—Earthquake preparedness—The future of and challenges in the field of solid earth geophysics—The problems of big science.
More on the problems of big science—Function of competition in science—What Knopoff has learned from past mistakes—Memorials to other scientists—The importance of the history of science—Work with the Atomic Energy Commission—Knopoff’s commitment to teaching—More on complex systems—A typical day for Knopoff— Hobbies.
More on hobbies—Knopoff’s travels.