Keith Runcorn

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Keith Runcorn
Born 19 November 1922
Southport, Lancashire
Died 5 December 1995(1995-12-05) (aged 73)
San Diego, California
Nationality United Kingdom
Alma mater Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, University of Manchester
Known for reestablishing viability of the theory of continental drift; discoveries in planetary magnetism
Awards Fellow of the Royal Society[1]
The Chree Medal and Prize (1969)
Vetlesen Prize (1970)
RAS Gold Medal (1984)
Scientific career
Fields plate tectonics; paleomagnetism
Institutions University of Cambridge, University of Manchester, Newcastle University, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Doctoral advisor Patrick Blackett
Doctoral students numerous: see body of article
Influences Patrick Blackett
Influenced two generations of earth scientists

Stanley Keith Runcorn FRS[1] (19 November 1922 – 5 December 1995) was a British physicist whose paleomagnetic reconstruction of the relative motions of Europe and America revived the theory of continental drift and was a major contribution to plate tectonics.[1][2]


He was born in Southport, Lancashire and graduated in engineering from the University of Cambridge in 1942.

After a period in radar research during the World War II, he joined the Physics Department at the University of Manchester where he did research on aspects of the Earth's magnetic field, taking his Ph.D. under Patrick Blackett in 1949.[3] This led to his interest in palaeomagnetism, the study of the magnetism of rocks, which he pursued first at the Geophysics Department at the University of Cambridge and later at Newcastle University, where he was appointed to the chair of Physics in 1956. At Newcastle Runcorn developed a strong research group in geophysics, and made substantial contributions to various fields, including convection in the Earth and Moon, the shape and magnetic fields of the Moon and planets, magnetohydrodynamics of the Earth's core, changes in the length of the day, polar wandering, continental drift and plate tectonics.

Runcorn received many honours, including Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1965, the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) and the Fleming medal of the American Geophysical Union. He was also a member of the Pontifical Academy of Science. In 1981, Runcorn became a founding member of the World Cultural Council.[4] He served as the Sydney Chapman Endowed Chair in Physical Sciences at the University of Alaska from 1989 to 1995. After his retirement in 1988 he continued to be active in various lines of research until his untimely death in San Diego in 1995. In 2007 the RAS named an award – for the year's best PhD thesis in geophysics – the 'Keith Runcorn Prize' in his honour.[5]


Runcorn was murdered in his hotel room in San Diego during a lecture trip to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Police found that he had been strangled and found evidence of injuries to the head.[6] Paul Cain, a professional kick-boxer, was later convicted and sentenced to a term of at least 25 years.[7] Prosecutors argued that Cain killed Runcorn after stealing his wallet and credit cards, having targeted him as an elderly gay man and therefore easy victim. Cain was tried three times in all. The first trial ended with a deadlocked jury; the second with a conviction that was overturned on appeal, on grounds that testimony from Cain's two previous wives as to his violent temper should not have been admitted in evidence.[8]


Refereed journals[edit]


Edited books[edit]

  • Ahrens, L. H.; Rankama, K.; Runcorn, S. K., eds. (1956). Physics and Chemistry of the Earth. Pergamon Press. 
  • Runcorn, S. K., ed. (31 December 1960). Methods and Techniques in Geophysics: v. 1. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0470745144. 
  • Continental drift (1962), S.K. Runcorn.
  • Runcorn, S. K., ed. (1 January 1966). Methods and Techniques in Geophysics: v. 2. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0470745182. 
  • International dictionary of geophysics : seismology, geomagnetism, aeronomy, oceanography, geodesy, gravity, marine geophysics, meteorology, the earth as a planet and its evolution (1967), ed.
  • Runcorn, S. K., ed. (1 January 1968). Mantles of the Earth and Terrestrial Planets. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0470745212. 
  • Methods in palaeomagnetism: Proceedings of the NATO Advanced Study Institute on Palaeomagnetic Methods (1967), edited by D.W. Collinson, K.M. Creer, S.K. Runcorn
  • Runcorn, S. K., ed. (1970). Palaeogeophysics. London: Academic Press. ISBN 978-0126027501. 
  • Earth Sciences (1971), S.K. Runcorn
  • Implications of continental drift to the earth sciences (1973) NATO Advanced Study Institute, D.H. Tarling and S.K. Runcorn
  • Mechanisms of continental drift and plate tectonics (1980) edited by P. A. Davies and S. K. Runcorn
  • Magnetism, planetary rotation, and convection in the solar system : retrospect and prospect : in honour of Prof. S.K. Runcorn (1985) edited by W. O'Reilly, S. K. Runcorn
  • Runcorn, S. K., ed. (1988). The Physics of the planets : their origin, evolution and structure (Fac-sim ed.). Chichester: Wiley. ISBN 9780471916215. 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Collinson, D. W. (2002). "Stanley Keith Runcorn. 19 November 1922 - 5 December 1995". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 48: 391–403. JSTOR 3650268. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2002.0023. 
  2. ^ Hide, Raymond (1996). "Stanley Keith Runcorn F.R.S. (1922–1995)". Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society. Royal Astronomical Society. 37 (3): 463–465. Bibcode:1996QJRAS..37..463H. Retrieved 13 June 2016. 
  3. ^ Powell, T.E. and Harper, P. "Outline of the Career of Stanley Keith Runcorn." Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Stanley Keith Runcorn FRS (1922-1995), geophysicist [1], College Archives, Imperial College London, 2002
  4. ^ "About Us". World Cultural Council. Retrieved November 8, 2016. 
  5. ^ Elliott, David. "Keith Runcorn honoured". Royal Astronomical Society. Retrieved 21 January 2015. 
  6. ^ Sullivan, Walter (7 December 1995). "Leading Expert in Geophysics Is Found Slain in Hotel Room". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 December 2016. 
  7. ^ "Kick-boxer jailed for death of geophysicist," Nature, v.389, p.657 (16 October 1997)
  8. ^ Ben Fox, "Man claims childhood abuse led him to murder renowned UAF scientist," Peninsula Clarion (28 February 2000)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]