Frank Press
Press looking at a machine
Press in 1953
19th President of the National Academy of Sciences
In office
Preceded byPhilip Handler
Succeeded byBruce Alberts
2nd Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy
In office
January 20, 1977 – January 20, 1981
PresidentJimmy Carter
Preceded byGuyford Stever
Succeeded byBenjamin Huberman (Acting)
Personal details
Born(1924-12-04)December 4, 1924
New York City, U.S.
DiedJanuary 29, 2020(2020-01-29) (aged 95)
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S.
EducationCity College of New York (BS)
Columbia University (MS, PhD)
AwardsWilliam Bowie Medal (1979)
Japan Prize (1993)
Vannevar Bush Award (1994)
AAAS Philip Hauge Abelson Prize (1994)
Lomonosov Gold Medal (1997)
Scientific career
InstitutionsLamont–Doherty Earth Observatory
Caltech Seismological Laboratory
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Office of Science and Technology Policy
ThesisTwo applications of normal mode sound propagation in the ocean (1949)
Doctoral advisorDoc Ewing
Doctoral studentsDon L. Anderson
Charles Archambeau
Ari Ben-Menahem
Donald W. Forsyth

Frank Press (December 4, 1924 – January 29, 2020) was an American geophysicist.[1] He was an advisor to four U.S. presidents, and later served two consecutive terms as president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (1981–1993). He was the author of 160 scientific papers and co-author of the textbooks Earth and Understanding Earth.

Press served on the President's Science Advisory Committee during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and was appointed by President Richard Nixon to the National Science Board. In 1977 he was appointed President Jimmy Carter's Science Advisor and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, serving until 1981.[2]

Early life and career

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Press graduated with a B.S. degree from the City College of New York (1944) and completed his M.A. (1946) and Ph.D. (1949) degrees at Columbia University under Maurice "Doc" Ewing. As one of Ewing's two assistant professors, (with J. Lamar "Joe" Worzel as the other) Press was a co-founder of Lamont Geological Observatory (now Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory) in Palisades, N.Y. Originally trained as an oceanographer, Press participated in research cruises on the sailing vessels RV Vema and RV Atlantis.

In the early 1950s, Press turned to seismology, co-authoring with Ewing and Jardetzky a seminal monograph on elastic waves in layered media. In 1957, Press was recruited by Caltech to succeed founder Beno Gutenberg as director of the Seismological Laboratory, a position in which he remained until 1965. The appointment was controversial in that it passed over both Hugo Benioff and Charles Richter, then the laboratory's senior professors, for a much younger outsider.

Press' accomplishments in this period include the design of a long-period seismograph, and the first detection of the Earth's normal modes of oscillation ("bell ringing"), excited by the Great Chilean earthquake, a pioneering application of digital processing to seismic recordings. Press was also closely involved in the construction of a lunar seismograph, first deployed by the Apollo 11 astronauts (see Lunar seismology).

Later career

Press and Vladimir Kirillin signing the United States and USSR agreement on cooperation in science and technology

In 1965, Press moved to MIT as department head of Earth and Planetary Sciences, where, with significant support from philanthropist Cecil H. Green, he revitalized what had been an overly traditional geology department by hiring new faculty members. He remained at MIT until 1976, and during this time, his work included collaborations with Vladimir Keilis-Borok and Leon Knopoff on computer pattern matching techniques that could be applied to earthquake prediction.

In 1976, Press became Science Advisor to President Jimmy Carter and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. In his capacity, he addressed a memo to the president on fossil fuels and climate change.[3] He played a key role in the formation of the National Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China. In 1981 he was elected president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and was re-elected in 1987, serving for a total of 12 years.

In 1996, Press co-founded WAG (the Washington Advisory Group, later known as the Advisory Group at Huron), a global consulting company with clients that included approximately 50 leading universities. WAG played a notable role all phases of the founding of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia.[4] Press chaired that university's international advisory committee until 2010.

Press was the recipient of 30 honorary degrees. Named in his honor are Mount Press, which in the Ellsworth Mountains, Antarctica; and Osedax frankpressi, a species of whalebone-eating marine worm.

Personal life

Press died on January 29, 2020, at the age of 95.[5] He was the father of physicist William H. Press.[6]

Notable accomplishments





  1. ^ "1981-1993 NAS President", National Academy of Sciences online.
  2. ^ Physics History Network
  3. ^ "The 1977 White House climate memo that should have changed the world". the Guardian. 2022-06-14. Retrieved 2022-06-17.
  4. ^ Al-Naimi, Ali (2016). Out of the Desert. Great Britain: Portfolio Penguin. p. 254. ISBN 9780241279250.
  5. ^ Langer, Emily, "Frank Press, a guiding force in U.S. science policy for years, dies at 95", Washington Post, January 31, 2020. Retrieved 2020-03-27.
  6. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (February 2020). "Frank Press, White House Science Adviser, Is Dead at 95". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 April 2022.
  7. ^ "Frank Press". Retrieved 2022-08-15.
  8. ^ "Frank Press". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2022-08-15.
  9. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 2022-08-15.
  10. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
Government offices Preceded byGuyford Stever Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy 1977–1981 Succeeded byBenjamin HubermanActing Professional and academic associations Preceded byPhilip Handler President of the National Academy of Sciences 1981–1993 Succeeded byBruce Alberts