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Charles Francis Richter (); April 26, 1900 – September 30, 1985) was an American
seismologist Seismology (; from Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into the following period ...
and
physicist A physicist is a scientist A scientist is a person who conducts scientific research The scientific method is an Empirical evidence, empirical method of acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at leas ...

physicist
. Richter is most famous as the creator of the
Richter magnitude scale The Richter scale – also called the Richter magnitude scale and Richter's magnitude scale – is a measure of the strength of earthquake An earthquake (also known as a quake, tremor or temblor) is the shaking of the surface of the Ear ...
, which, until the development of the
moment magnitude scale The moment magnitude scale (MMS; denoted explicitly with or Mw, and generally implied with use of a single M for magnitude) is a measure of an earthquake An earthquake (also known as a quake, tremor or temblor) is the shaking of the surfa ...
in 1979, quantified the size of
earthquake An earthquake (also known as a quake, tremor or temblor) is the shaking of the surface of the Earth resulting from a sudden release of energy in the Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known ...

earthquake
s. Inspired by
Kiyoo Wadati was an early seismologist Seismology (; from Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divid ...
's 1928 paper on shallow and deep earthquakes, Richter first used the scale in 1935 after developing it in collaboration with
Beno Gutenberg Beno Gutenberg (; June 4, 1889 – January 25, 1960) was a German-American seismologist Seismology (; from Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancie ...

Beno Gutenberg
; both worked at the
California Institute of Technology The California Institute of Technology (Caltech)The university itself only spells its short form as "Caltech"; other spellings such a"Cal Tech" and "CalTech" are incorrect. The Institute is also occasionally referred to as "CIT", most notably ...
. The quote "
logarithmic plotA logarithmic scale (or log scale) is a way of displaying numerical data over a very wide range of values in a compact way—typically the largest numbers in the data are hundreds or even thousands of times larger than the smallest numbers. Such a sc ...
s are a device of the devil" is attributed to Richter.


Childhood and education

Richter was born in
Overpeck, Ohio Overpeck (other names: Overpeck Station, Overpecks, Overpecks Station) is an unincorporated community File:Entering Heinola, Minnesota.jpg, Sign at Heinola, Minnesota, Heinola, an unincorporated community in Otter Tail County, Minnesota An uninc ...
. Richter had German heritage: his great-grandfather was a Forty-Eighter, coming from
Baden-Baden Baden-Baden is a spa town in the states of Germany, state of Baden-Württemberg, south-western Germany, at the north-western border of the Black Forest mountain range on the small river Oos (river), Oos, ten kilometres (six miles) east of the Rhi ...

Baden-Baden
(today in
Baden-Württemberg Baden-Württemberg (; ) is a state (''Land'') in southwest Germany Southern Germany () as a region has no exact boundary but is generally taken to include the areas in which Upper German dialects are spoken. This corresponds roughly to the h ...
, Germany) in 1848 in the wake of the
Revolutions of 1848 in the German states In political science Political science is the scientific study of politics. It is a social science dealing with systems of governance and power, and the analysis of politics, political activities, political thoughts, political behavior, and as ...
. Richter's parents Frederick William and Lillian Anna (Kinsinger) Richter, were divorced when he was very young. He grew up with his maternal grandfather, who moved the family (including his mother) to Los Angeles in 1909. After graduating from
Los Angeles High School Los Angeles High School is the oldest Public education#United States Public School, public high school in the Southern California, Southern California Region and in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Its colors are royal blue and white and t ...
he attended
Stanford University Stanford University, officially Leland Stanford Junior University, is a private Private or privates may refer to: Music * "In Private "In Private" was the third single in a row to be a charting success for United Kingdom, British singer Du ...

Stanford University
and received his undergraduate degree in 1920. In 1928, he began work on his PhD in theoretical physics from the California Institute of Technology, but, before he finished it, he was offered a position at the Carnegie Institute of Washington. At this point, he became fascinated with seismology (the study of earthquakes and the waves they produce in the earth). Thereafter, he worked at the new Seismological Laboratory in Pasadena, under the direction of Beno Gutenberg. In 1932, Richter and Gutenberg developed a standard scale to measure the relative sizes of earthquake sources, called the Richter scale. In 1937, he returned to the California Institute of Technology, where he spent the rest of his career, eventually becoming professor of seismology in 1952.


Career

Richter went to work at the
Carnegie Institution of Washington The Carnegie Institution of Washington (the organization's legal name), known also for public purposes as the Carnegie Institution for Science (CIS), is an organization in the United States established to fund and perform scientific research ...
in 1927 after
Robert Millikan Robert Andrews Millikan (March 22, 1868 – December 19, 1953) was an American experimental physicist A physicist is a scientist A scientist is a person who conducts scientific research The scientific method is an Empirical eviden ...
offered him a position as a
research assistant #REDIRECT Research assistantA research assistant, or RA, is a researcher employed, often on a temporary contract, by a university A university ( la, universitas, 'a whole') is an educational institution, institution of higher education, higher ...
there, where he began a collaboration with Beno Gutenberg. The Seismology Lab at the
California Institute of Technology The California Institute of Technology (Caltech)The university itself only spells its short form as "Caltech"; other spellings such a"Cal Tech" and "CalTech" are incorrect. The Institute is also occasionally referred to as "CIT", most notably ...
wanted to begin publishing regular reports on earthquakes in southern California and had a pressing need for a system of measuring the strength of earthquakes for these reports. Together, Richter and Gutenberg devised the scale that would become known at the Richter scale to fill this need, based on measuring quantitatively the
displacement Displacement may refer to: Physical sciences Mathematics and Physics *Displacement (geometry), is the difference between the final and initial position of a point trajectory (for instance, the center of mass of a moving object). The actual path c ...
of the earth by
seismic waves Seismic waves are waves The United States Naval Reserve (Women's Reserve), better known as the WAVES (for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), was the women's branch of the United States Naval Reserve The United States Navy ...
, as
Kiyoo Wadati was an early seismologist Seismology (; from Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divid ...
had suggested. The pair designed a
seismograph A seismometer is an instrument that responds to ground motions, such as caused by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and explosions. Seismometers are usually combined with a timing device and a recording device to form a seismograph. The output of ...
that measured this displacement and developed a logarithmic scale to measure intensity. The name "magnitude" for this measurement came from Richter's childhood interest in
astronomy Astronomy (from el, ἀστρονομία, literally meaning the science that studies the laws of the stars) is a natural science that studies astronomical object, celestial objects and celestial event, phenomena. It uses mathematics, phys ...
- astronomers measure the intensity of
star A star is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma Plasma or plasm may refer to: Science * Plasma (physics), one of the four fundamental states of matter * Plasma (mineral) or heliotrope, a mineral aggregate * Quark ...

star
s in magnitudes. Gutenberg's contribution was substantial, but his aversion to interviews contributed to his name being left off the scale. After the publication of the proposed scale in 1935, seismologists quickly adopted it for use in measuring the intensity of earthquakes. Richter remained at the Carnegie Institution until 1936, when he obtained a post at the California Institute of Technology, where Beno Gutenberg worked. Gutenberg and Richter published '' Seismicity of the Earth'' in 1941. Its revised edition, published in 1954, is considered a standard reference in the field. Richter became a full professor at the California Institute of Technology in 1952. In 1958, he published '' Elementary Seismology'' based on his undergraduate teaching notes. As Richter seldom published in
peer-review Peer review is the evaluation of work by one or more people with similar competencies as the producers of the work ( peers). It functions as a form of self-regulation by qualified members of a profession within the relevant field Field may r ...
ed
scientific journal In academic publishing Academic publishing is the subfield of publishing which distributes academic research and scholarship. Most academic work is published in academic journal articles, books or thesis' form. The part of academic written ...
s, that is often considered his most important contribution to seismology. Richter spent 1959 and 1960 in Japan as a
Fulbright scholar The Fulbright Program, including the Fulbright–Hays Program, is one of several United States Cultural Exchange Programs United States cultural exchange programs, particularly those programs with ties to the Bureau of Educational and Cultura ...
. Around this time in his career, he became involved in
earthquake engineering Earthquake engineering is an interdisciplinary Interdisciplinarity or interdisciplinary studies involves the combination of two or more academic disciplines into one activity (e.g., a research project). It draws knowledge from several other ...
through development of
building code A building code (also building control or building regulations) is a set of rules that specify the standards for constructed objects such as buildings and nonbuilding structures. Buildings must conform to the code to obtain planning permission, u ...
s for earthquake prone areas. The city government of Los Angeles removed many ornaments and
cornice In architecture upright=1.45, alt=Plan d'exécution du second étage de l'hôtel de Brionne (dessin) De Cotte 2503c – Gallica 2011 (adjusted), Plan of the second floor (attic storey) of the Hôtel de Brionne in Paris – 1734. Arch ...

cornice
s from municipal buildings in the 1960s as a result of Richter's awareness campaigns. After the 1971 San Fernando earthquake, the city cited Richter's warnings as important in preventing many deaths. Richter had retired in 1970.


Richter magnitude scale

At the time when Richter began a collaboration with Gutenberg, the only way to rate shocks was a scale developed in 1902 by the Italian priest and geologist
Giuseppe Mercalli Giuseppe Mercalli (21 May 1850 – 19 March 1914) was an Italian Italian may refer to: * Anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Italy ** Italians, an ethnic group or simply a citizen of the Italian Republic ** Italian languag ...
. The
Mercalli scale The modified Mercalli intensity scale (MM or MMI), developed from Giuseppe Mercalli Giuseppe Mercalli (21 May 1850 – 19 March 1914) was an Italy, Italian Volcanology, volcanologist and Catholic Church, Catholic priest. He is known best for th ...
uses
Roman numerals Roman numerals are a that originated in and remained the usual way of writing numbers throughout Europe well into the . Numbers in this system are represented by combinations of letters from the . Modern style uses seven symbols, each with a ...
and classifies earthquakes from I to XII, depending on how buildings and people responded to the tremor. A shock that set
chandelier A chandelier (; also known as girandole A Girandole (from French, in turn from Italian language, Italian ''girandola'') is an ornamental branched candlestick or light fixture consisting of several lights, often resembling a small chandelier. ...

chandelier
s swinging might rate as a I or II on this scale, while one that destroyed huge buildings and created panic in a crowded city might count as an X. The obvious problem with the Mercalli scale was that it relied on subjective measures of how well a building had been constructed and how used to these sorts of crises the population was. The Mercalli scale also made it difficult to rate earthquakes that happened in remote, sparsely populated areas. The scale developed by Richter and Gutenberg (which became known by Richter's name only) was instead an absolute measure of an earthquake's intensity. Richter used a
seismograph A seismometer is an instrument that responds to ground motions, such as caused by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and explosions. Seismometers are usually combined with a timing device and a recording device to form a seismograph. The output of ...

seismograph
, an instrument generally consisting of a constantly unwinding roll of paper, anchored to a fixed place, and a pendulum or
magnet A magnet is a material or object that produces a magnetic field A magnetic field is a vector field In vector calculus and physics, a vector field is an assignment of a vector to each point in a subset of space. For instance, a ve ...

magnet
suspended with a marking device above the roll, to record actual earth motion during an earthquake. The scale takes into account the instrument's distance from the
epicenter The epicenter, epicentre () or epicentrum in seismology Seismology (; from Ancient Greek σεισμός (''seismós'') meaning "Earthquake, earthquake" and -λογία (''-logía'') meaning "study of") is the scientific study of earthquakes ...

epicenter
, or the point on the ground that is directly above the earthquake's origin. Richter chose to use the term "magnitude" to describe an earthquake's strength because of his early interest in
astronomy Astronomy (from el, ἀστρονομία, literally meaning the science that studies the laws of the stars) is a natural science that studies astronomical object, celestial objects and celestial event, phenomena. It uses mathematics, phys ...
; stargazers use the word to describe the brightness of stars. Gutenberg suggested that the scale be logarithmic so an earthquake of magnitude 7 would be ten times stronger than a 6, a hundred times stronger than a 5, and a thousand times stronger than a 4. (The
1989 Loma Prieta earthquake The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake occurred on California's Central Coast on October 17 at local time. The shock was centered in The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park in Santa Cruz County, California, Santa Cruz County, approximately northeast o ...
that shook San Francisco was magnitude 6.9.) The Richter scale was published in 1935 and immediately became the standard measure of earthquake intensity. Richter did not seem concerned that Gutenberg's name was not included at first; but in later years, after Gutenberg was already dead, Richter began to insist for his colleague to be recognized for expanding the scale to apply to earthquakes all over the globe, not just in southern California. Since 1935, several other magnitude scales have been developed.


Personal life

Richter was an active and avowed
naturist Naturism is a way of life encompassing non-sexual social nudity Nudity is the state of being in which a human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species of primates, characterized by bipedality, opposa ...

naturist
. He travelled to many nudist communities with his wife. states Richter was an atheist, but she also quotes a Robert Kaufman's letter to the ''New York Times'' which stated that Richter was a member of Kaufman's congregation. At his retirement party, a group of colleagues at Caltech, called the "Quidnuncs," played and sang a ditty titled "Richter Scale," which gave examples of earthquakes in American history, told in
ballad A ballad is a form of verse, often a narrative set to music. Ballads derive from the medieval French ''chanson balladée'' or '' ballade'', which were originally "dance songs". Ballads were particularly characteristic of the popular poetry and ...
style. Richter was initially shy about the song, thinking it demeaned science. However, the author of the song, Kent Clark, stated in a 1989 interview that eventually Richter enjoyed the song. Richter died of
congestive heart failure Heart failure (HF), also known as congestive heart failure (CHF) and (congestive) cardiac failure (CCF), is a set of manifestations caused by the failure of the heart The heart is a cardiac muscle, muscular Organ (biology), organ in mos ...
on September 30, 1985, in
Pasadena, California Pasadena ( ; ) is a city in Los Angeles County, California Los Angeles County, officially the County of Los Angeles, and sometimes abbreviated as L.A. County, is the List of the most populous counties in the United States, most populous co ...
. He is buried in
Altadena, California Altadena is an unincorporated city, unincorporated area and census-designated place in Los Angeles County, California, approximately 14 miles (23 km) from the downtown Los Angeles Civic Center, and directly north of the city of Pasadena, Cali ...
's Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum.


See also

*
Modified Mercalli intensity scale The modified Mercalli intensity scale (MM or MMI), developed from Giuseppe Mercalli Giuseppe Mercalli (21 May 1850 – 19 March 1914) was an Italy, Italian volcanologist and Catholic Church, Catholic priest. He is known best for the Mercalli i ...
*
Seismicity Seismicity is a measure encompassing earthquake An earthquake (also known as a quake, tremor or temblor) is the shaking of the surface of the Earth resulting from a sudden release of energy in the Earth's lithosphere that creates seismic wa ...
* Macroseismic magnitude


Works

* * * * * * * *


Notes and references

*


External links


Charles Richter interview
at
USGS The United States Geological Survey, abbreviated USGS and formerly simply known as the Geological Survey, is a scientific agency Agency may refer to: * a governmental or other institution Institutions, according to Samuel P. Huntington, ...

Charles Richter QuotationsCharles F. Richter Papers
Caltech Archives {{DEFAULTSORT:Richter, Charles Francis 1900 births 1985 deaths American atheists American naturists American people of German descent American seismologists California Institute of Technology alumni California Institute of Technology faculty People from Butler County, Ohio Stanford University alumni