Who on Earth is Inge Lehmann?


Click on today’s Google Doodle that sits atop its search results — a little exploded drawing of the planet — and you’ll be taken to a list of results telling you all about Inge Lehmann. Google’s automated algorithm says it’s her 127th birthday today, although we suspect she’s dead. So that’s fact #1.


Inge Lehmann was a geologist back in the 1920s...

Inge is a woman’s name. A Danish woman’s name. She was born in 1888 and lived to the impressive old age of 104, eventually being put into the earth she spent so much time examining and thinking about in 1993. As early as the 1920s the geologist suggested that there might be more inside our plant that just soil, rocks, dinosaur bones and worms, claiming there might be an inner core made of different stuff to the rest of it.

...who had an idea about the insides of the world...

Scientists agreed that this inner core theory was a good explanation for why the vibration waves from earthquakes appeared to slow down when travelling long distances through the planet, hence Lehmann goes down in history as the woman who sort of discovered the centre of the earth.

...and it’s probably all thanks to us, really...

We can claim her as our own, as she was educated in part at Cambridge University, studying maths, before honing her numeracy skills in an office job. She then landed in the seismological field by gaining a job as an assistant, before working her way up to become head of the department of seismology at the Geodetical Institute of Denmark.


...and is still around today...

Her name lives on in several ways. She’s had a thing in space named after her, with asteroid 5632 also known as Ingelehmann by observers and the scientific community, plus the American Geophysical Union hands out medals in her name to people who contribute more to the understanding of what goes on beneath the surface of the planet.


...but we can’t find out if she was buried or cremated...

We hoped she was buried. Very deep.

Illustration for article titled Who on Earth is Inge Lehmann?

This post originally appeared on Gizmodo UK, which is gobbling up the news in a different timezone.



If you want to know what Inge Lehmann did, and didn’t find the article very informative...

She observed seismic waves on her seismometers in Denmark from a large earthquake in New Zealand. This was unexpected, since it was well known at the time that seismic waves that travel deep into the Earth are refracted through the outer core and don’t surface at some locations, and Denmark was far enough away from the earthquake that this should have happened. Lehmann reasoned that the only way it was possible was if the waves had reflected off of a boundary within the core, did the math to demonstrate this, and published her findings to worldwide acclaim.

The boundary between the inner and outer core is now named the ‘Lehmann discontinuity’ in her honor.