Department of Geosciences

School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics


The UTD Geophysics Museum

The University of Texas at Dallas' Geophysics Museum is on the ground floor in the south foyer of the Founders Building. There are four glass-fronted cases, a live seismic data display and several larger items arranged nearby.

The Dallas area was very important in the early history of geophysical exploration for petroleum. Texas Instruments (TI) was actually derived from a geophysical contracting company called Geophysical Services, Inc. (GSI). TI was created to build the instruments GSI used during World War II. This expanded into the production of field worthy military electronics.

The founders of UTD – Cecil Green, Erik Jonsson and Eugene McDermott – were all pioneering geophysicists who worked for GSI in their early careers and later managed TI. The bronze plaque on the wall next to the museum cases commemorates these pioneers. Texas Instruments sold their parent, GSI, to Halliburton in 1988. A number of the artifacts in the glass cases were manufactured and used by GSI or TI.

While many of the objects on display are associated with the seismic exploration for oil, we also have some very unique pieces built at UTD and its predecessor institution, the Southwest Center for Advanced Research in the 1960s and 1970s. These include modules of portable recording systems that UTD founding professor Anton Hales used in large-scale seismic experiments to map the Earth's crust and mantle. At that time suitable equipment was not commercially available.

One of the cases contains instruments for mapping Earth's gravitational and magnetic fields. These would have been used both for petroleum and mineral exploration, as well as academic research. This display case contains some very early paleomagnetic samples from the western United States. Rock samples of this type helped map the Earth's magnetic field during ancient epochs of time. Studies like this were essential to the establishment of continental drift and plate tectonics, which are among the central unifying concepts of modern geoscience.

The larger items displayed on the floor include an Eötvös torsion balance used in the 1920s for gravity surveys; two large seismometers once used for global earthquake monitoring; and a borehole seismic tool.

The seismic monitor on the end cap is a real-time display of the Earth's motion at Founders. On a special pier in the basement we have installed three seismometers oriented up-down, east-west and north-south corresponding to the three traces on display. The motion of the earth is very small, on the order of microns (10 -6 m). These signals also are very low frequency, from about 0.02 to 10 Hz, well below the human hearing range. If the motion were large enough you would feel it like the rocking of a boat, rather than hear it. Most of the motion is just "noise" generated at the ocean or on land from wind and city traffic. Occasionally a signal will appear. If you walk past this monitor every day, you might see some kind of "event" every few weeks. Some of these events are industrial explosions in northern Texas or southern Oklahoma and some of the events are earthquakes. These can be smaller, magnitude 3 or 4 events in the mid-continent area or larger magnitude 4 to 6 events in Alaska, California, Mexico, Central and South America. Magnitude 6 or larger events anywhere in the world will be detected.

  • Updated: February 11, 2014