Department of Geosciences

School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Scholarships

Victor Oppenheim Scholarship Fund

This fund, established in 2006, offers a minimum of $1,000 to full- or part-time graduate or undergraduate students in good standing with preference given to those in financial need. 

Victor Eduard Oppenheim, known as Victor to his many friends, was a geologist, engineer, anthropologist, archeologist, ethnologist, linguist, author, poet, and perhaps the last of the great terrestrial explorers.  He was born in Latvia in 1906 and died in Dallas, Texas in December 2005.  He spent many of his early years traveling with his father, a civil mining engineer, on work assignments in the Far East, mainly Manchuria, China, Tibet, Korea, and Japan.  While on assignment in Manchuria in 1921 his father was slain by bandits. 

Returning to Europe with his French mother after his father’s death, Victor finished his undergraduate studies in Latvia in 1923.  He received his License of Science in Engineering at the University of Caen in France in 1927.  From 1929 to the late-1940s Victor searched for oil and mineral wealth in most of the South American countries.  In the process he made a geologic map of each country, often the first of that country, by foot, in dugout, on raft, on horseback, or astride a mule.  His composite map of South America was published in 1944, making him the only 20th century geologist to have single-handedly mapped an entire continent, completing the first geological map of South America since its discovery 450 years earlier.

His studies led him to the conclusion that petroleum would not be found in Permo-Carboniferous age Gondwana rocks and thus steered petroleum exploration in Brazil to Tertiary age and Mesozoic age sedimentary rocks.  In Columbia he discovered the El Cerrejon coal deposit with over 40 billion tons of reserves.  He also discovered oil seeps at the foot of the Cordillera Oriental west of the Llanos in eastern Colombia, which led to concessions and discovery of the major Cusiana Oil and Gas Field.

Victor was the first person to geologically explore many areas of South America.  He traveled the entire length of the Amazon River to its headwaters, and explored many of its major tributaries.  He also discovered and named a mountain range – Sierra de Cutucu – in Ecuador.  He climbed to the top of most of the major mountains in South America, and studied many of its volcanoes.  In South America, Victor is recognized as the “Father of South American Geology.”  Victor left South America for the United Stated in 1949 and, before retirement at the age of 92, turned his attention to the economic geology of North America, Central America and Africa.

Victor was interested in more than just economic geology.  He discovered important fossils and artifacts, melding his interests in the history of the Earth, of life, and of people.  He wrote articles on the ethnography of the indigenous people of the remote and geologically unknown eastern and southeastern areas of Peru.  Fluent in eight languages and conversant in three Indian dialects, he published 131 scientific papers and articles in four languages.  His 1968 book in English, Explorations East of the High Andes, recounts some of his adventures, but it is particularly notable in its empathy and understanding of the people of South America. 

Victor was a member of many professional societies, a certified geologist/engineer in eight countries, chief geologist of Peru, and the recipient of numerous awards.  He seemed most proud of his affiliation with the Explorers Club headquartered in New York and of receiving the 1991 Outstanding Geologist Award from the American Institute of Professional Geologists.  His notes and records are archived at the University of North Texas, which maintains a website of his accomplishments.

  • Updated: May 15, 2006