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Spiess (pronounced SPEES) was born in Oakland, California. He received an undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley and a master's degree from Harvard University. He received his doctorate in physics from UC Berkeley in 1951.
Spiess joined the Marine Physical Laboratory at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1952 and served as director of the laboratory from 1958 to 1980. He served as director of the Scripps Institution from 1964 to 1965.
In the early 1960s, Spiess helped develop R/P FLIP (Floating Instrument Platform), a floating laboratory.
R/P FLIP is a 355-foot manned research vessel and floating instrument platform. FLIP is towed out to sea and one end is submerged. Most of its hull is under water, but the crew and instruments are housed in a 55-foot-long tip that remains above the surface of the ocean.
FLIP has been used to study the acoustics of whales and other marine mammals, heat exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere, and the effects of seismic waves on water.
Spiess collaborated with Fred Fisher and Phillip Rudnick in development of the vessel.
- Pearce, Jeremy. (2006, September 25). Fred N. Spiess, 86; Helped Design Marine Station. The New York Times, p. A27
- Obituary notice, Scripps Institution of Oceanography News