Stanley Keith Runcorn

The Board of Regents approved the naming of the Natural Sciences Building Conference Room 300 on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus the S. Keith Runcorn Memorial Conference Room, June 14, 1996

Photo of Stanley Keith Runcorn
Stanley Keith Runcorn

The Board of Regents approved naming a Natural Sciences Building conference room at UAF after Keith Runcorn, a highly regarded geophysicist.

Stanley Keith Runcorn, who held the Sydney Chapman Endowed Chair in Physical Sciences at UAF, was slain Dec. 5, 1995 in San Diego, Calif.

Runcorn, 73, was visiting the area to lecture at the University of California before attending the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. He accepted the position of endowed chair at UAF shortly after he retired from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1988. The chair was named in honor of Chapman, the scientific director of the Geophysical Institute from 1951 to 1970.

Originally from Lancashire, England, Runcorn was highly regarded internationally as a geophysicist. Considered a scientific pioneer in plate tectonics, he is renowned as a central player in two of the major earth science debates in the mid-twentieth century: the origin of Earth's magnetic field and the validity of the theory of continental drift.

Painting of Keith Runcorn hanging in the conference room. Photo: Lesa Hollen
Painting of Keith Runcorn hanging in the conference room. Photo: Lesa Hollen

Professor of Geophysics David Stone calls Runcorn one of the great generalists in geophysics. "He knew a great deal about the various aspects of the moon, the earth, and the origin of planets," Stone said. "Right up until his death, he was working on how magnetic reversals occur."

A Fellow of England's Royal Society since 1965, Runcorn held honorary doctoral degrees of science from Utrecht University, Gent University, Paris University and Bergen University. In 1984, he received the Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society, and in 1987, he was awarded the Wegener Medal from the European Geophysical Society, an organization similar to AGU. Runcorn also sat on a committee of scientists overseeing the experimental Biosphere II Space Habitat in Arizona from 1991 to 1993, and he was a member of the Papal Academy of Science, which is Pope John Paul II's science advisory panel.

Runcorn will be missed by many for whom he was both personal friend and mentor. Kenneth Creer with the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Edinburgh wrote: "For all his achievement and many awards, Keith Runcorn remained modest and unpretentious. His reputation as one of the foremost geophysicists of his generation will remain long after his death, as will memories of his warmth and sincerity." One of Runcorn's students, Jim Stuart Runner-Beuning, adds, "Professor Runcorn will always be an inspiration to me as he has been to so many throughout his productive, creative life. He will be missed."


UA Site named after Stanley Keith Runcorn

The Keith Runcorn Conference Room


Stanley Keith Runcorn was awarded The Vetlesen Prize in 1970.