Oral Histories

Interview of Leon Knopoff

UCLA faculty member in geophysics and research musicologist.
Interviews not in a series, part two
Science, Medicine, and Technology
UCLA and University of California History
UCLA Faculty
Biographical Note:
UCLA faculty member in geophysics and research musicologist.
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 LaborMovement in 1920s and 1930s Los Angeles—More on family background—Father’s pacifism—Parents’ politics—Family life whilegrowing up—Growing up during the Great Depression.
More on family life while growing up—Early education—Pianolessons, early exposure to classical music, and the importance ofmusical education—Teaching musical acoustics—Interest in musicendures at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)—UCLAInstitute of Ethnomusicology—More on early education—Leg andknee problems—High school classes in math and science—Enduringinterest 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 whileKnopoff was growing up—Summer work while in high school andcollege—Influential teachers—Attending Caltech during the SecondWorld War—More on influential teachers—More on attending Caltechduring the Second World War Attending Caltech during the SecondWorld War—Listening to music on the radio and attending movies as afamily—Effect of family’s nomadism—High school chemistrycompetition.
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 atCaltech—Knopoff’s graduate work in frequency modulated radio atCaltech—Knopoff’s fathers’ death—Leaves Caltech to teach at MiamiUniversity (“Miami”)—William H. Pickering—More on graduateschool at Caltech—More on leaving Caltech to teach at Miami—Adjusting culturally to Ohio.
Teaching at Miami—Completes thesis and receives Ph.D. fromCaltech—Knopoff is hired to conduct research at UCLA—LeavesMiami for position at UCLA—Louis B. Slichter—Harald Sverdrup andothers 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 firstpaper—Helps recruit Gordon MacDonald—Works on the SeismicScattering Project—Meets and marries his wife, Joanne Van CleefKnopoff—Knopoff’s mother’s death—Interest in the philosophy ofHans 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 differentUniversity of California campuses—The development of Knopoff’sinterest in attenuation—The development of long-period seismometersand the World-Wide Standard Seismographic Network (WWSSN).
More on the development of long-period seismometers and theWWSSN—Travels to the South Pole for WWSSN—Significance of theEarth’s poles for seismographic research—The activities of theInstitute of Geophysics—Knopoff’s decision not to leave UCLA forCaltech.
More on Knopoff’s decision not to leave UCLA for Caltech—Devisesa method for dating ancient pottery using thermoluminescence—Joinsthe UCLA Institute of Ethnomusicology—Reconciling seeminglydisparate interests—Research concerning the structure of the uppermantle and geological inversion—The International Geophysical Yearand the Upper Mantle Project—International scientific inquiry andexchanges—Knopoff appointed as the UCLA campus director of theInstitute of Geophysics.
Knopoff is voted into the National Academy of Sciences—Futurechallenges for the Institute of Geophysics—Frank Press—The sourcesof Knopoff’s scientific creativity—Important teachers and Knopoff’sown teaching philosophy—Complex systems—Research on model andtheoretical 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 codesrelated to earthquakes—Earthquake preparedness—The future of andchallenges in the field of solid earth geophysics—The problems of bigscience.
More on the problems of big science—Function of competition inscience—What Knopoff has learned from past mistakes—Memorials toother scientists—The importance of the history of science—Work withthe Atomic Energy Commission—Knopoff’s commitment toteaching—More on complex systems—A typical day for Knopoff—Hobbies.
More on hobbies—Knopoff’s travels.