Merle Antony Tuve


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(1901–1982) American geophysicist

Born at Canton in South Dakota, Tuve gained his BS degree in electrical engineering in 1922 from the University of Minnesota. He held posts at Princeton (1923–24) and Johns Hopkins (1924–26), receiving his PhD from the latter in 1926. From 1926 he was a staff member of the department of terrestrial magnetism of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Tuve is known principally for his techniques of radio-wave exploration of the upper atmosphere. In 1925 Tuve and Gregory Breit at Carnegie conducted some of the first experiments in range-finding using radio-waves in which they measured the height of the ionosphere. They transmitted a train of pulses of waves and determined the time each pulse took to return to Earth. Thereafter, pulse-ranging became the standard procedure for ionospheric research and laid the foundation for much of the later work on the development of radar.

In 1926 Tuve investigated long-range seismic refraction – the effect of different materials in the Earth's crust on the propagation of a seismic disturbance. He went on to construct an ‘upper-mantle velocities map’ of America, which has been found to accord with theories of isostasy – a hydrostatic state of equilibrium in the distribution of materials of varying density in the Earth's interior.

During World War II Tuve worked for the Office of Scientific Research and Development, developing the proximity fuse, which stopped the ‘buzz bomb’ attacks on Britain and Antwerp, among other projects. He returned to Carnegie in 1946 to become director of the department of terrestrial magnetism, a position he held up to 1966.

As well as seismic refraction and range-finding, Tuve also made studies of artificially produced beta and gamma rays, transmutations of atomic nuclei, and artificial radioactivity. He was for nine years editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.

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