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Sydney Chapman: Father of the IGY

An official photo of Sydney Chapman from the 1950s

An official photo of Sydney Chapman from the 1950s. Click image for larger view.

Sydney Chapman was born in England on January 29, 1888.  He attended the University of Manchester and the University of Cambridge.  He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences.  He was honored by many scientific institutions for his work in mathematics and geophysics.

Dr. Chapman participated in the second International Polar Year (1932) and studied the interrelationship of scientific disciplines long before his involvement in the International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1956 and 1957.  He was the President of the Special Committee for the IGY and guided much of its planning.  He and Lloyd Berkner (an influential U.S. geophysicist) were called the “fathers of the IGY.”

Dr. Chapman published more than 400 papers on geomagnetism (a name that he coined), the kinetic theory of gases, atmospheric tides, and ionospheric problems.  He was the author of a landmark book with T.G. Cowling, entitled, “Mathematical Theory of Non-Uniform Gases” (1939).  He also published two other books on geomagnetism.

An official photo of Sydney Chapman from the 1950s

Dr. Chapman taught at the Alaska Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks, where he was a professor from 1951 to 1970. Click image for larger view.

He taught at several universities in the United Kingdom and the United States, either as a visiting professor or on a continuing part-year basis.  Between 1951 and 1970, Dr. Chapman was a Professor of Geophysics and Advisory Scientific Director of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.  He spent three months each year at the Geophysical Institute, generally in the winter when the aurora appeared.  He spent the remainder of each year at the High Altitude Observatory of the National Center of Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Dr. Chapman died on June 16, 1970, in Boulder.  He was 82 years old.