Earth and Planetary Science
EPS Near-Surface Geochemistry and Geobiology


The Centennial Record of the University of California
A Centennial Publication of the University of California; UC 1868 to 1968

History of the Department of Geology and Geophysics

The University of California was established in 1868 and in 1869 Joseph Le Conte, professor of geology, natural history, and botany, came to Berkeley and taught the first courses, both in geology and in the life sciences. Indeed, for several years almost every student on the Berkeley campus attended his lectures in physical geology. A Department became established and was originally housed in South Hall, described at the time as “an enduring structure of brick and stone” and it survived to this day. In 1911 the Department of Geology moved into the renovated library building called Bacon Hall, where it remained until 1961 when it moved into the new Earth Sciences Building on the N-side of Campus (now McCone Hall).

Eugene W. Hilgard, professor of agriculture, taught a first course in mineralogy in 1872. The appointment of Andrew C. Lawson in 1890 was particularly important. While LeConte continued to teach the popular, introductory course in physical geology until 1898, Lawson taught mineralogy, crystallography, petrography, and economic geology. He is best known for his discovery of the San Andreas fault (Calif. Dept. Geology Bull. #1-4, 1893).

By the turn of the century, the number teaching staff consisted of three regular members (A. Lawson, J. Merriam and A. Eakle). Already in 1887, the University had established the first Seismographic Stations in the Americas, one at Berkeley and the other at Lick Observatory. But the first course in seismology was not offered until 1912, by Elmer F. Davis and later by Father Macelwane. In 1925 Lawson asked Perry Byerly to join the faculty and direct the seismographic stations. In 1922, John P. Buwalda started instruction in physiography and established the summer field course in geology, later to be carried on successfully for 33 years by Professor Nicholas L. Taliaferro. This development was largely an outgrowth of the need for more geologists by the petroleum industry. In 1923 Norman Hinds joined the Department and established a program in geomorphology. Another important personality was George D. Louderback. From 1906-1944 he was a leader in the affairs of the department and of the campus as a whole; for 11 years as chairman, and for an equal span as dean of the College of Letters and Science.

By 1945 the Department had grown to seven faculty (Byerly, Gilbert, Hinds, Louderback, Pabst, Taliaferro and Williams). Under the 1945-1949 chairmanship of volcanologist Howell Williams the Department attained international reputation by hiring petrologist Francis Turner from New Zealand and geophysicist John Verhoogen from Belgium. Traditionally, emphasis had been on the field, structural, sedimentary, stratigraphic, and historical aspects of geology but increasingly theoretical and experimental expertise was emphasized, to understand igneous and metamorphic processes, the deformation of rocks and minerals, evolution of landscapes, paleomagnetism, mineral equilibria at high pressures and temperatures. In 1963, the name of the department became “Geology and Geophysics”. The academic staff had grown to ten in geology and to four in geophysics by 1968, when the Campus celebrated its 100th anniversary.

Since then, earth sciences transformed once more, mainly by including environmental issues, atmospheres, oceans, as well as planetary systems, which are all closely linked to solid earth processes. The name changed again in 2001 to “Earth and Planetary Science”. Adding these new fields resulted in further growth to 21 faculty. The Department is proud to rank on top of the list of earth science departments in public universities, together with the much larger Departments at MIT, Caltech and Stanford.