King’s alumni with a taste for travel, science and data…

Geographer's List

Geologist John Milne was a King’s alumnus who not only travelled extensively around the world but literally measured it when it moved. Milne is credited with inventing the seismograph, which measures the scale of earthquakes.

We look at Milne’s pioneering exploration of our Earth and the work of a few other intrepid King’s alumni whose determined discovery changed how we explore our environment.

Measuring earthquakes: John Milne

John Milne

Born in Liverpool on 30 December 1850, Milne (Applied Science, 1870) was a geologist and mining engineer who is credited with inventing the seismograph.

Milne travelled widely to the Americas, the Middle East and Japan, where he spent most of his working life. During his 20 years in Japan Milne developed the first horizontal pendulum seismograph, which allowed users to detect different types of earthquake waves and estimate their velocity.

In recognition of his contributions to seismology, Milne was awarded a rare honour by the Emperor of Japan, a third class Order of the Rising Sun. He also received a life-pension of 1,000 yen, which would be worth around £30,000 in today’s prices.

On his return to Britain in 1895, Milne persuaded the Royal Society to fund 20 earthquake observatories around the world that were all equipped with his seismographs. Milne then analysed data from their observatories, feeding it into his seminal work, Earthquakes and Other Earth Movements, which was published in 1898 and is still regarded as a classic text on earthquakes.

Milne recognised the need for the international exchange of seismological readings in his regular earthquake reports, published from 1900 to 1912 and his reports led to the development of the ‘International Seismological Summary’, a global earthquake survey, which was conducted from 1918 to 1963. Since 1964, the International Seismological Centre has published the reports as part of its Bulletin series.

Studying earthquakes and volcanoes in a cold climate: Dr Archibald Dollar

It’s probably fair to say that Dr Archibald Dollar (Geology, 1931) didn’t suffer from dizzy spells or vertigo, given that his academic specialisms were volcanology and seismology. The Norwegian hill range ‘Dollartoppen’, on the Norwegian island of Jan Mayen, is named after Dollar.


Born in 1908, Dollar’s army work in India during the Second World War focussed on quartz oscillator plates, which are electronic circuits that power measuring and testing devices, radios – and now also computers and mobile phones.

After the war, Dollar returned to his lectureship post at Glasgow University, but moved to London in 1950 to take up a post at Birkbeck, where he later became head of geology.

His UK-focused research included publications on Scottish earthquakes and on the landscapes of Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel. Dollar’s studies of volcanoes and earthquakes also took him to extreme cold climates across the world, including geological fieldwork expeditions to northern Norway and the Arctic between 1947 and 1959.

The creator of the first artificial snowflake: Ukichiro Nakaya

Ukichiro Nakaya

Our next King’s alumnus spent his life studying a natural wonder that he described, in rather poetic terms for a scientist, as ‘letters sent from heaven’: snow crystals.

Ukichiro Nakaya (Physics, 1929), researched glaciology, low-temperature sciences and natural snowflake crystals. He also developed the first artificial snowflakes.

Nakaya’s studies at King’s were with Wheatstone Professor Owen Willans Richardson, working on long-wavelength x-rays. He then joined Hokkaido University, creating the first artificial snow crystal in 1936. He received the Imperial Prize of the Japan Academy for his contributions to snow crystal research in 1941. His book Snow Crystals: Natural and Artificial (1954) is to this day regarded as a classic reference on crystal shapes.

During World War Two, Nakaya worked on finding ways to prevent atmospheric icing, including working on the effects of ice on fighter planes. After the war, he researched flood and snowmelt in drainage basins, spending time in Hawaii, the US, Canada and Greenland observing glaciers and weather trends.

Nakaya is remembered both on the earth and in the heavens - the Nakaya Islands in the Antarctic and asteriod 10152 were both named after him.

Geotechnical earthquake design: Harry Bolton Seed

Harry Bolton Seed

Can you guess the profession of this King’s alumnus who was based in the San Andreas Fault area of California?

Harry Bolton Seed (Engineering, 1944); PhD, Structural Engineering, 1947) was born in Bolton, Lancashire. At school he was successful in both academic subjects and sports, but he chose to take up a scholarship at King’s rather than pursue a career in football.

Seed was an assistant lecturer at King's for two years, then moved to the USA to study soil mechanics at Harvard before moving to Berkeley University in 1950. At Berkley Seed built up the university’s geotechnical engineering programme – and is now regarded as the founder of geotechnical earthquake engineering research.

Seed also investigated major earthquake and landslide disasters, and contributed to improvements in building design for areas vulnerable to earthquakes. His research led to a total revision of concepts and methods around geotechnical earthquake design, as well as the revision of codes of practice, design procedures, and regulations throughout the world.

In 1987, Seed received the National Medal of Science, the highest scientific accolade awarded in the USA. The American Society of Civil Engineers established the H. Bolton Seed Medal in his honour in 1993 – the Medal is awarded for outstanding contributions to teaching, research, and/or practice in geotechnical engineering. 

Land surveys and classification: Sir Dudley Stamp

Dudley Stamp


Scouring the land with a spyglass…

Sir Dudley Stamp (Geology, 1917, Geography BA & DSc, 1921) was one of the 20th century’s most internationally-recognised British geographers. One of his major works was the Land Utilisation Survey of Britain, completed in 1948.

Something of a prodigy, he began his studies at King’s in 1913 when he was just 15 years old, and completed two undergraduate degrees in just four years. In the years that followed, Stamp worked in Burma as a petroleum geologist and was appointed Professor of Geology and Geography in the new University of Rangoon in 1923. In 1926 he returned to the UK, taking up the Ernest Cassel Readership at the London School of Economics.

Stamp formed the Land Utilisation Survey of Britain in the 1930s, a major project that surveyed the whole country at the scale of six inches to a mile. Volunteers including colleagues, students, school teachers and pupils helped to complete the project. The first maps and reports derived from the Survey were published in 1933, and formed the basis of much government policy for land-use control in Britain.

Stamp developed the concept of land classification, later working on many official inquiries into planning and the use of land. Stamp was also a consultant to national governments and prepared a general scheme for a world land use survey which was adopted by the International Geographical Union.

Not one to do things by halves, he is also reputed to have visited every country in the world.

King’s first Professor of Geography: Professor Sir Sidney Wooldridge

Professor Sir Sidney Wooldridge (Geology, 1921) was both a student and lecturer at the university – and in 1947, he became the first Professor of Geography at King’s.

London-born, Wooldridge grew up in Surrey, completing his schooling in London’s Wood Green. The countryside around London was the basis of much of Wooldridge’s study – his research focused on fieldwork to review erosion in the London Basin and the Weald. He was also interested in relating early human settlement and land use to the physical landscape, and his emphasis on historical perspective and regional focus remains important today.

Structure Surface Drainage

One of his major works, Structure, Surface and Drainage of South-East England (1939), was co-authored with King’s alumnus Professor David Linton. Wooldridge also collaborated with fellow King's alumnus Dudley Stamp, jointly editing the 1951 publication London Essays in Geography.

In 1933, Wooldridge was a founder-member of the Institute of British Geographers – now part of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). The RGS marked the 40th anniversary of Wooldridge’s earlier publication with a collection of his papers, The Shaping of Southern England. This collection emphasised the importance of Wooldridge’s work, and showed how approaches to geographical research had evolved since Wooldridge’s influential work was first published.

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