Edward Bullard

Sir Edward "Teddy" Crisp Bullard FRS[1] (21 September 1907 – 3 April 1980) was a British geophysicist who is considered, along with Maurice Ewing, to have founded the discipline of marine geophysics. He developed the theory of the geodynamo, pioneered the use of seismology to study the sea floor, measured geothermal heat flow through the ocean crust, and found new evidence for the theory of continental drift.[2][3]

Sir Edward Bullard
Born(1907-09-21)21 September 1907
Died3 April 1980(1980-04-03) (aged 72)
La Jolla, California
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge
Known forDynamo theory
AwardsHughes Medal (1953)
The Chree Medal and Prize (1957)
Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society
Fellow of the Royal Society[1]
Wollaston Medal (1967)
Vetlesen Prize (1968)
Royal Medal (1975)
William Bowie Medal (1975)

Maurice Ewing Medal (1978)
Scientific career
InstitutionsBritish Admiralty, National Physical Laboratory, University of Cambridge
Thesis1. Electron scattering. 2. Pendulum Observations. (1932)
Doctoral advisorPatrick Blackett
Doctoral studentsHarvey Gellman
Robert Ladislav Parker
Nigel Weiss

Early life

Bullard was born into a wealthy brewing family in Norwich, England. He was educated at Norwich School and later studied Natural Sciences at Clare College, Cambridge.[1][4] He studied under Ernest Rutherford at the Cavendish Laboratory of University of Cambridge and in the 1930s he received his PhD degree as a nuclear physicist.

As it was the Great Depression and he was married he had to find a career to survive on. In the 1930s nuclear physics did not seem to be it so he switched to geophysics. During World War II he was an experimental officer at HMS Vernon, and worked on the development of degaussing techniques to protect shipping from magnetic mines.


Bullard held a chair at the University of Toronto from 1948 to 1950 and was head of the National Physical Laboratory between 1950 and 1955. He was knighted in the 1953 Coronation Honours List. He returned to Cambridge in 1955, first as an assistant in research, then as a Reader and finally to a chair created for him in 1964. He was a founding fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge

Bullard became one of the most important geophysicists of his day. He also did studies of the ocean floor even though he suffered from seasickness and could rarely take scientific trips on the ocean. He was important to dynamo theory, hence his most important work concerned the source of the Earth's magnetic field. He was often frustrated by efforts to increase geophysical interest at the University of Cambridge. In his career he won the Hughes Medal, the Vetlesen Prize and the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society. In 1965, he was awarded the Alexander Agassiz Medal from the National Academy of Sciences for his significant investigations of the earth from its surface to its core.

Then during the early 1960s Bullard and his associates used a computer to try to fit all of the continents together. Instead of using the shorelines, as other geophysicists had done, he used a depth of 914 meters (3000 ft) below sea level. This depth corresponds to about halfway between the shoreline and the ocean basins and represents the true edge of the continents. By doing this he discovered a near perfect fit among the continents put together. With this discovery he helped further the idea of a supercontinent that an earlier geophysicist, Alfred Wegener, had suggested calling Pangaea. It turned out a posteriori that a very similar result had been published thirty years earlier by the French geologist Boris Choubert,[5] but this work published in French in a francophone journal of low international influence had remained virtually unknown.

After retiring from Cambridge he settled to a position at the University of California, San Diego. Bullard died in La Jolla, California 1980. His papers are held by the Churchill Archives Centre.

See also


  1. McKenzie, D. P. (1987). "Edward Crisp Bullard. 21 September 1907 – 3 April 1980". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 33: 66–98. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1987.0004. JSTOR 769947.
  2. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "Biography: Sir Edward Crisp Bullard (1907–1980)". The Vetlesen Prize. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  3. Massey, H. S. W. (August 1980). "Obituary: Sir Edward Bullard". Physics Today. 33 (8): 67–68. Bibcode:1980PhT....33h..67M. doi:10.1063/1.2914231. Archived from the original on 28 September 2013.
  4. Reflections on Churchill's scientists – the first generation
  5. Choubert, B. (1935). "Recherches sur la genèse des chaînes paléolithiques et antécambriennes". Revue de géographie physique et de géologie dynamique (in French). 8 (1): 5–50.

Further reading

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