quinta-feira, 29 de junho de 2017

First monument for Inge Lehmann revealed at Copenhagen University

Danish seismologist Inge Lehmann (1888 – 1993) is best known for presenting the first evidence of the Earth’s inner core in 1936. Her active research career as a seismologist began in 1928, continued well into the 1970s, and earned her the reputation as “the grande dame” of modern seismology.


Despite her international success, Inge Lehmann was never well known outside the geophysical science community in Denmark. Her contribution to science was first officially acknowledged in Denmark on 15 May 2017 when a monument in her honour was revealed by Denmark’s Minister for Higher Education and Science, Søren Pind. The monument is situated in front of the University of Copenhagen, next to Niels Bohr, making her the first female scientist to be commemorated by the University. 

The artist Elisabeth Toubro chose an abstract form for the monument that celebrates what mattered for Inge Lehmann: Her scince rather than herself as a person.  Born in a time when few women could hold
senior scientific positions, Inge Lehmann had an extraordinary career: In 1928, she was appointed Head of the Seismic Section at the Danish Geodetic Institute, where she published evidence for the existence of the Earth’s inner core in 1936. After her retirement in 1953, she continued her work at research institutions in the USA, and in 1964, she proved a velocity discontinuity at a depth of 220 km, known today as the “Lehmann Discontinuity”.

During Inge Lehmann’s lifetime, seismology developed from a small, isolated discipline to a large, well-funded research area. This growth took place against the backdrop of the Cold War with its political and military agendas. Seismology attracted special interest because it provided tools for the detection of nuclear weapons tests.

Her private archive was handed over to the Danish National Archive in 2015 and it contains more than 4,000 letters and documents relating to her research. As an important scientist in her field, she
corresponded with many of the leading seismologists of the time. Few of her private letters have survived.

Inge Lehmann has often been portrayed as a trailblazing female scientist, unwilling to accept discrimination in her pursuit of an academic career. However, her personal archive at the Danish National Archive shows that Inge Lehmann had to accept restrictions
in her academic career due to her gender, and only by being pragmatic about her situation did she succeed in establishing herself as a professional scientist

The celebration of her achievement by the University of Copenhagen was the highpoint of several years of public interests beginning with a 2015 documentary on Danish national television about Inge Lehmann ́s life and discoveries, followed by a Google “doodle” on May 13, 2015 in celebration of her 127-years  birthday, and the naming of several Danish streets after her. Finally, the Carlsberg Found is funding a two-year research project, by this author, to write her biography.

According to the artist Elisabeth Toubro, the Lehmann monument shows a wave slicing through the sculpture and striking a round core that causes it to change direction. The body of the sculpture is cleaved in two, suggesting an earthquake and the related seismographic readings. The side of the monument shows an outline portrait of Inge Lehmann. 

Given that Inge Lehmann was a very private person that always put her scientific work first, she would undoubtedly have approved that the symposium that accompanied the official revealing of the monument featured several scientific talks. The symposium’s first speaker was senior seismologist Trine Dahl-Jensen from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, who gave a talk about Inge Lehmann’s contributions to seismology, and on the website created for the occasion, emeritus Søren Gregersen explained about
her research on the inner core.  That it was the University of Copenhagen that awarded her the honour of a monument is a source of amusement for those who knew Inge Lehmann since it was the same university that in 1951 rejected her as candidate for the first professorship in geophysics, only in 1968 to award her an honorary doctorate. A fact that was indirectly acknowledged by the university’s Prorector Lykke Friis in her welcome speech.

Lif Lund Jacobsen
Danish National Archives, Copenhagen,

Text by IASPEI

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