Harold Jeffreys

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Sir Harold Jeffreys (born April 22, 1891 in Fatfield , County Durham , England , † March 18, 1989 in Cambridge , England) was a British mathematician , statistician , geophysicist and astronomer .

Live and act

Jeffreys completed a wide range of studies in Newcastle upon Tyne after leaving school . First he studied mathematics and chemistry as well as physics and geology and finally astronomy . In 1910 he was at St John's College of Cambridge University added. Here he initially concentrated on mathematics .

From 1931 to 1946 Jeffreys was a lecturer in geophysics . At the time, New Zealander Keith Edward Bullen was one of his students who had come to Cambridge for a doctorate. Together they worked on a correction for the P-wave transit times of earthquake waves. From this joint work, the Jeffreys Bullen Tables , published in 1940, emerged, which for several decades formed the basis for interpretations of the earth's structure and its internal structure. Jeffreys was also one of the first to show the existence of a liquid core. This makes him one of the founders of modern geophysics, but at the same time was considered a staunch opponent of the continental drift postulated by Alfred Wegener .

Jeffreys also further developed Bayesian statistics (see also: Jeffreys' Prior ). In 1923 he introduced the WKB approximation in general for linear partial differential equations of the 2nd order before the namesake (but had other mathematicians as precursors). In 1958 he became a professor of astronomy and experimental philosophy.

Harold Jeffreys was married to Bertha Swirles (1903-1999). Together they wrote Methods of Mathematical Physics .


Jeffreys received numerous honors and medals for his achievements and services. In 1925 he was elected as a member (" Fellow ") of the Royal Society of London , which awarded him the Royal Medal in 1948 and the Copley Medal in 1960 . In 1937 he was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society and in 1952 the William Bowie Medal of the American Geophysical Union . Since 1945 he was a member of the National Academy of Sciences .

1953 Jeffreys was beaten to the Knight Bachelor and accepted as an honorary member ( Honorary Fellow ) in the Royal Society of Edinburgh . In 1954 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences . He was President of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1955 to 1957 . The Royal Statistical Society awarded him the Guy Medal in gold in 1962 for his work .


Harold Jeffreys wrote a number of specialist books, some of which were reissued until the 1990s.

  • The Earth, its origin, history and physical constitution . Cambridge University Press 1924
  • Operational methods in mathematical physics . Cambridge University Press 1927
  • Scientific inference . Cambridge University Press 1931
  • Cartesian tensors . Cambridge University Press 1931
  • Earthquakes and Mountains . Methuen 1935
  • Theory of probability . The Clarendon Press, Oxford 1939
  • (with Bertha Swirles) Methods of Mathematical Physics . Cambridge University Press 1946
  • Asymptotic approximations . The Clarendon Press, Oxford 1962

In addition, he published over 430 articles in specialist journals from 1910 until his death in 1989.

  • Collected papers . Vol. 1-2 (Ed. Harold Jeffreys) 1971, 1973; Vol. 3-6 (Eds. Harold and Bertha Jeffreys), 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977. Gordon and Breach, London, New York and Paris.


  • Alan Cook: Sir Harold Jeffreys. April 2, 1891– March 18, 1989 . In: Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society , Volume 36, 1990, pp. 302-333, ISSN  0080-4606 ( [1] ).
  • Bertha Swirles (Lady Jeffreys): Harold Jeffreys from 1891 to 1940 . In: Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London , Volume 46, No. 2, 1992, pp. 301-308, ISSN  0035-9149 ( [2] ).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Entry on Jeffreys; Sir; Harold (1891-1989) in the Archives of the Royal Society , London
  2. ^ Fellows Directory. Biographical Index: Former RSE Fellows 1783–2002. (PDF file) Royal Society of Edinburgh, accessed December 24, 2019 .