Ivan I. Mueller

2002 Waldo E. Smith Medal (INACTIVE) Winner

Ohio State University

Ivan I. Mueller was awarded the Waldo E. Smith Medal at the AGU Spring Meeting Honors Ceremony, which was held on 29 May 2002, in Washington, D.C. The medal recognizes extraordinary service to geophysics.


“The era of artificial Earth satellites is characterized by a number of outstanding individuals of either immense scientific potential, of visionary foresight for new developments, or of unique leadership capabilities for the coordination of crucial scientific programs. There is but a tiny group of scientists who can be said to possess these three qualities together. One of these individuals is Dr. Ivan Mueller.

“After graduating from the Technical University of Budapest, he started his academic career in 1960 at the Department of Geodetic Science and Surveying at Ohio State University. Soon he became professor in the department, and in the course of the more than 30 years as its academic teacher, he turned it into one of the most important geodetic training centers in the United States and worldwide. Through its own students and its guest scientists from abroad, this institute has exerted for decades an internationally fundamental influence on geodetic research. The books written by Dr. Mueller and his works on contemporary satellite geodesy, reference systems, and the use of modern satellite observation techniques strongly influenced generations of young scientists in the field of modern geodetic techniques and led to the founding of the exciting new field of space geodesy for Earth system studies.

“With his distinctive frankness and authority, his vision and leadership ability, and his diplomatic intuition, he guided many scientists and, scientific groups on the international scene in directions considered proper and worthwhile by him. In this way, he played an outstanding role in shaping modern satellite geodetic research, in particular, the international coordination of programs leading to the introduction of collateral improvements of measurement techniques, of Earth-based tracking networks, and of usable geodetic satellite targets.

“This holds especially for the COSPAR/IAG-sanctioned Commission on International Coordination of Space Techniques for Geodesy and Geodynamics (CSTG), the IUGG/IAU-sanctioned International Earth Rotation Service (IERS), and the IUGG-sanctioned International GPS Service (IGS). Ivan Mueller has been instrumental as the key international leader in the original formation of these services and in their evolution up to today.

“The project MERIT (Monitor Earth Rotation and Intercompare the Techniques) and the IAG working group COTES (Conventional Terrestrial Reference Systems), chaired by Ivan Mueller, were the initiatives in the late 1970s for starting the Earth rotation monitoring using primarily space geodetic techniques and for maintaining the terrestrial reference frame using all geodetic techniques. They developed into the IERS, which was launched in 1983. It operated very successfully over the next decade, and as president of the IAG in the years 1987-1991, Ivan Mueller closely followed the IERS developments. By the mid-1990s, it became apparent that the IERS needed to be re-organized to better serve its user communities. Again, it was Ivan Mueller who led the very difficult process of forming a consensus among IERS members on adopting a re-organized structure for the IERS and for implementing those changes. His contributions were absolutely pivotal to the realization of the IERS today.

“By 1987, it became apparent that an international service for precise GPS ephemerides and related products would be needed. What was lacking at that point was a unified approach to creating such a service. It was again Ivan Mueller, president of the IAG at that time, who had a clear vision of the best approach for creating such a service. Under his leadership, a working group developed the organizational structure for the IGS, defined its standards, prepared its terms of reference, formulated its plans for a pilot project, and co-opted its members. By the 1991 IUGG meeting in Vienna, the IGS was established, becoming operational in 1993. No other IAG service has been more successful and bears more clearly the imprint of Professor Mueller’s skills and wisdom than the IGS.

“Today’s relative precision of a few parts per billion for the terrestrial reference system and its precise link to the celestial system are without question unthinkable without the fundamental scientific contributions and complex international collaborative arrangements which Dr. Ivan Mueller initiated during his active career and even beyond. Many of the interdisciplinary investigations of the Earth system became possible only through his pioneering activities. The international geodetic community accounts itself happy that Dr. Ivan Mueller is awarded the Waldo E. Smith Medal.”

—CHRISTOPH REIGBER, GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam, Germany


“It is a great honor and a pleasure to receive this award. It is wonderful to be acknowledged in this way, especially by the AGU, the foremost society of Earth scientists in the world, by the selection committee, and by colleagues who must have written quite unreasonable letters of recommendations full of exaggeration, similar to those of Christoph’s in the citation.

“It is especially nice to receive this medal as a geodesist. I had problems with this designation from the very beginning, when people started to inquire what geodesy really means, especially in the United States, and how did I become a geodesist. My latest experience in this regard happened just last week, when as the representative of our graduate school, I participated in a Ph.D. examination in arts education. After introducing myself (and my profession), the chair of the committee, looking at my gray hair, responded, ‘So you must be then from the Medical School!,’ obviously thinking of geriatrics. This, after we publicized everywhere on the campus the forthcoming October symposium celebrating the 50th anniversary of geodetic science at OSU! On the same theme, during the time when my children went to high school, their schoolmates (and their parents) asked them what their father’s profession was. Geodesy? Never heard of it! In retrospect, I think they probably did not believe that there was such a thing and that I just made up a cover story. To my great pleasure, my daughters are here today, and I hope they will leave convinced that I did practice a legitimate profession after all.

“So how did I become a geodesist? First, I survived WWII and the various occupations (German and Soviet) of Hungary. Second, I actually matriculated from a high school, which was the alma mater of an unusually large number of Nobel Prize winners (John von Neumann, Eugen Wigner, John Harsanyi (Economics), who jointly received the prize with John Nash, etc.). The principal of the school and my math teacher was an assistant of Eotvos. My successful matriculation should not diminish the reputation of these great people.

“I actually started out studying architecture, then structural engineering, and received a degree in civil engineering (like Waldo Smith, whom I had the pleasure to know, after joining AGU in 1959). Neither profession gave me the excitement that I expected and, for this (and other) reasons, I decided to have an early ‘career change’ and, quoting Robert Frost, ‘took a road less traveled by’ (mapping) and ‘that has made all the difference.’ Unlike today, when the main practitioners of geodesy are in the Earth sciences, at that time they were supporting mapping. This is how I became a geodesist and started to work for an advanced degree.

“All this was interrupted by the events on October 23, 1956, the Hungarian Revolution. After escaping to Austria, we became refugees and some time later were deposited by the U.S. Army in Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, with my wife and a 6-month-old baby. Thanks to the generosity of this great country and its people, the next 45 years are not worth mentioning. Thereafter I never had to ‘work’ for a living. No, we did not go on welfare; work was just pure pleasure, not a daily chore.

“Of course, the luck of being at the right place at the right time (Sputnik in 1956) also helped: The space age had just started and so did space geodesy and its government support. With the help of the Rockefeller Foundation, I visited the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Dr. Hynek (later at Chicago of UFO fame) wanted to send me to the newly-established optical satellite tracking station at Naiti Tal in the Himalayas (without the family). They also arranged for an interview in Columbus with Professor Weikko Heiskanen, director of the Institute of Geodesy, Photogrammetry and Cartography at OSU (the 1956 Bowie Medalist). He eventually became my Ph.D. advisor and invited me to join the faculty in 1960. There I remained for decades and enjoyed every (?) minute of it.

“After retirement, if you can call it that, I volunteered to join the Board of Trustees of the Columbus Chamber Music Society. It seemed like another worthwhile and pleasurable involvement, especially because chamber music relies upon the collective instincts, experience, knowledge, and talent of the participants to guide the process. It also places the highest order of responsibility upon the individual to engage in a close dialogue with others in the ensemble.

“By now, you should have a sense of where I am heading: it is the same high order of responsibility and collective effort that made the international projects and services mentioned in the citation a reality. Chamber musicians do not need a conductor. Neither did the participants of these scientific efforts. I was just fortunate to be one of the ‘players.’ Thus, I accept this medal on behalf of the several hundred ‘performers’ in the ensembles of the IERS, IGS, ADOS, etc., whose confidence I was fortunate to enjoy and whose friendship I will always cherish.

“Although I cannot claim to have lived up to the words of the citation by my friend of almost 40 years, I am grateful for being honoring me, and for the ‘ensembles,’ as well as for my wife, Marianne, and my daughters, Julie and Lisa, who although not quite understanding what I was up to, have always been my supporting pillars.”

—IVAN I. MUELLER, Ohio State University, Hilliard