Irish geophysicist Robert Mallet is often referred to as the father of seismology thanks to his pioneering work on earthquakes.
Mallet worked for his father’s business
After he graduated he helped to turn his father’s iron foundry business into one of the biggest engineering companies Ireland. They supplied ironwork for bridges, railway companies and Trinity College.
While he clearly had a flair for business, his passion was science and he spent his life studying geology. He was a member of the Royal Geological Society of Ireland, and the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The latter financed a lot of his research in seismology.
Mallet published several papers
Throughout his career, Mallet published a number of important papers about natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanoes. His 1946 paper The Dynamics of earthquakes set the foundations for how seismology is studied today.
In the 1850s, Mallet and his son performed experiments on sand and solid rock to determine the speed of seismic propagation. They exploded dynamite and measured the velocity of elastic waves on the surface. He published his paper The Earthquake Catalogue of the British Association in 1858.
The Great Neapolitan Earthquake
There was a disaster in Padula, Italy in 1857. The Great Neapolitan Earthquake had killed 11,000 people. Mallet was given a £150 grant to go and record the devastation. He studied the cracks in buildings, collapsed walls and overturned objects.
He was able to estimate the origin of the wave. His paper; Report on the Great Neapolitan Earthquake of 1857 was presented to the Royal Society of London.
In 1862, he published a second report, Great Neapolitan Earthquake of 1857: The First Principles of Observational Seismology. It contained evidence that the earthquake had originated 8-9 miles beneath the ground. He created formulae to calculate the velocity needed to overturn various objects. This helped him determine the velocity of earthquake waves at various sites.
His report Volcanic Energy: an Attempt to develop its True Origin and Cosmical Relation explained that when the crust of the earth is disturbed by crushing or contortions, it could generate enough heat for a volcanic eruption of steam or lava.
These papers shaped the way seismology is studied today. Mallet is now considered the father of seismology, he even coined the word himself. He died in 1881 aged 71.
More great Irish scientistsDr Vincent Barry Francis Beaufort Louis Brennan Harry Ferguson John Philip Holland Robert Mallet Annie Maunder Francis Rynd
Do you qualify to become an Irish citizen?There are three main ways for a person to qualify for Irish citizenship – through birth, through marriage or civil partnership or through naturalisation. Check if you qualify for Irish citizenship
Did you know?Why does Ireland have such a high percentage of red-haired people compared to the rest of the Western world? Is it from the Celts or could the Vikings be responsible? Find out more.
Have you heard about…An Irish bride performed beautiful rendition of the song ‘The Prayer’ at her wedding – and returned from her honeymoon to find that the video had gone viral. Find out more.
What about this…‘The most dangerous woman in America’ – ‘Mother Jones’ was an Irish emigrant who fought for worker’s rights, believing that working men should be able to earn enough money from a hard day’s work to provide for their families. Her efforts landed her in court, where the prosecution labelled her the ‘most dangerous woman in America’. Find out more.