History of Geophysics at Mines

Geophysics at Mines dates back to January of 1927 when Dr. C.A. Heiland stepped before seven graduate students in a small basement room of Guggenheim and began the first lecture of the first formal geophysical engineering course to be taught in the U.S. Much had preceded that January day. A year before President M. F. Coolbaugh had discussed with members of the school’s board of trustees, including Mines graduate Max Ball, the possibility of introducing into the curricula a new method of exploration called geophysical prospecting. After conferences with Dr. F. M. Van Tuyl, in whose geology department the new courses were to go, final approval of the plan was given by the board of trustees and Dr. Coolbaugh set about procuring a suitable instructor. Dr. Heiland, then in the U.S. as technical representative of the Askania Werke geophysical instrument division, was selected to head the project and came to Golden to discuss details. So extensive became the proposed curricula resulting from these discussions that a separate department was formed and geophysics became an option like mining and petroleum in which geological engineering students could specialize. Dr. Heiland remained head of the department until the summer of 1948 when he retired from academic life.

Paralleling the action taken by many of the oil companies, the board of trustees of Mines, in 1949, changed geophysics from a service to a degree-granting department, thus placing it on the level of geology, mining, metallurgy and petroleum engineering departments. In 1950, 27 geophysical engineers were graduated and took their places beside about 200 geological engineers, geophysics option, who had been graduated from 1926 to 1949. During the same period about 160 students did graduate work in the geophysics department, 23 receiving their master’s and 11 their doctor’s degrees.

~ John C. Hollister, ’33 Professor of Geophysics

Mines Magazine, October 1950, v. 40, n. 10