The Geophysical Institute was authorized by Congress in 1946 and funded in 1948. I won’t even try to detail all of the infighting between the Institute and the University here; Neil Davis does a much better job in his book, The College Hill Chronicles. I will just mention a few highlights.
The original focus of the Geophysical Institute was on aurora and radio transmission, specifically on the upper atmosphere. Sydney Chapman became the advisory scientific director on his retirement from Oxford around 1950, and he was still teaching occasional classes when I arrived in 1963. C. T. Elvey became the director shortly after Chapman arrived, but he left in the early ’60′s. The first GI building, now called the Chapman Building, was also built about 1950.
Between Chapman and Elvey, the Geophysical Institute played a large role in the International Geophysical Year, which is largely what got me interested in geophysics back in high school.
One version of the all-sky camera used to study the aurora was developed at the Geophysical Institute, pretty much cobbled together by students.
At one point the Geophysical Institute made the front page of the New York Times by being the first in the US to track Sputnik and calculate its orbit. GI scientists may not have been the first in the United States to see it, though!
The Institute directors had always emphasized primary research, and by the early ’60’s, when I arrived as a graduate student, they were beginning to move down into glaciology, the atmosphere and seismology, and up towards the sun. Today there are research programs in atmospheric sciences, remote sensing, seismology, snow, ice and permafrost, space physics and aeronomy, tectonics and sedimentation and volcanology. Public outreach includes volcanic activity, earthquake information, aurora forecasts, an online webcam on the roof and the Alaska Science Forum, which I was writing 20-some years ago. Facilities include the Alaska Climate Research Center, the Alaska Earthquake Info Center, The Alaska Satellite Facility, the Alaska Volcano Observatory, Chaparral Physics (Infrasound), the College International Geophysical Observatory, the Mather Library and the Poker Flat Research Range.
The first building was outgrown shortly after I arrived, and while the new building was being planned and completed on West Ridge, the existing building was extended with trailers. The new building (now called the C.T. Elvey building) was completed in 1970. It, too, was outgrown, or rather overgrown. Toward the end of the last century the International Arctic Research Center was built partly as an extension of the Elvey building, with help from Japan. The library (which was especially cramped in the Elvey Building) and the Atmospheric Science program moved into IARC (now officially called the Akasofu Building.)
I’ll be blogging about individual research programs and facilities over the next few weeks. (Or months, most likely.)