Norman Bleistein

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Norman Bleistein
Norman Bleistein headshot.jpg
Membership Honorary Member

Norman Bleistein one of the founders (with fellow mathematician Jack K. Cohen) of the Center for Wave Phenomena (CWP) first at the University of Denver, which later relocated to the Colorado School of Mines. Dr. Bleistein is noted for many innovative research papers in the subjects of wave propagation and amplitude preserving seismic imaging algorithms, and as an educator whose many graduate students have gone on to be research leaders in the exploration geophysics community.

SEG Maurice Ewing Medal 2014[1]

Norman Bleistein, University Emeritus Professor at Colorado School of Mines, is widely recognized as one of the world’s top mathematicians in exploration geophysics. He is known primarily for three outstanding achievements. The first, with his colleague Jack Cohen, is development of true-amplitude migration, or migration inversion. This pioneering research initially involved amplitude-preserving Kirchhoff migration that Norm and others later extended to Gaussian-beam and reverse time migration. Norm’s research in inversion technology is in widespread use in the industry today. Second, Norm was a leader of the Center for Wave Phenomena (CWP) at Colorado School of Mines. This highly successful seismic-imaging consortium has been a leading industry research group for more than 30 years. Third, Norm has been a mentor for many geophysicists in seismic imaging. His enthusiastic knowledge has inspired generations of geophysics students, several of whom have become top researchers. Norm’s publication record is phenomenal, with 135 peer-reviewed publications and more than 1,200 citations. Norman Bleistein is truly one of the giants in mathematical geophysics — from both the research and teaching perspectives. He truly deserves SEG’s highest award, the Maurice Ewing Medal.

Biography Citation for the Maurice Ewing Medal 2014

Contributed by Zhaobo (Joe) Meng

I first met Norman “Norm” Bleistein in 1992 when he taught a three-week short course at Shandong University in Jinan, China. There, I was fortunate to bike with him throughout the city, including a trip to an “English Corner” where people gathered and practiced speaking English.

That morning, Bleistein completely lost track of time and lost his voice talking with all the locals. With other similar trips, he successfully recruited many of us mathematicians who now have very successful careers in geophysics.

Bleistein received a Ph.D. in mathematics from the Courant Institute for Mathematical Sciences at New York University in 1965. After a year of postdoctoral study there and three years as an assistant professor of applied mathematics at MIT, he moved to the University of Denver in 1969, where he advanced to full professor. In 1983, Bleistein, along with Jack Cohen, John DeSanto, and Frank Hagin, moved to the mathematics department at Colorado School of Mines (CSM). In 1984, they founded at CSM the Center for Wave Phenomena (CWP) and the Consortium Project on Seismic Inverse Methods, where Bleistein served as director until 1996. 

Known as “Mr. Stationary Phase,” Bleistein has published an enormous body of mathematical and geophysical articles and books that have greatly influenced the geophysical industry — especially the SEG community. With stationary-phase analysis, he and his colleagues and students at CWP established true-amplitude Kirchhoff migration with mathematic rigor. Bleistein wrote a book on a first-year graduate course in mathematical methods and coauthored one on asymptotic expansions of integrals.

He is also coauthor of a short course on mathematical methods for seismic imaging, migration, and inversion. This popular and renowned course has been presented at international meetings, universities, and companies worldwide and is scheduled for further presentations — continually evolving as the theory evolves. In this way, ray-based methods, including Kirchhoff and Gaussian beam, can be derived more accurately for modeling, migration, and inversion of seismic data. Computer programs based on this new preserved amplitude provide a more rigorous foundation for depth-domain amplitude-versus-offset or amplitude-versus-angle work.

After Bleistein retired from CSM in 1999, he continued to work on Gaussian-beam methods (GBM) and pseudodifferential operator modeling, migration, and inversion, collaborating with Guanquan Zhang, Yu Zhang, and Samuel H. Gray. Their work led to a lucid description of GBM and an elegant true-amplitude GBM method in reflection-angle domain.

Bleistein has always kept a special place in his big heart for all people and various cultures. He has helped many mathematicians to improve their careers. He encouraged us to always boil down to the physics of an integral expression instead of dwelling on the elegance of the mathematics. He has preferred to travel throughout the world, always biking with local communities and immersing himself in the culture. His students have come from China, France, Brazil, and many other points around the globe. Furthermore, he is a very skillful photographer, which has dovetailed perfectly with his many trips around the world.

Bleistein’s numerous academic achievements and honors are well known throughout the world. He was designated a University Emeritus Professor at CSM and is an Honorary Member of SEG and a guest professor of geophysics at China University of Geosciences, Wuhan. He also has spent time in Germany with the WIT Consortium, funded by an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Award in 2001–2005. In addition, he has served as an adjudicating editor of Inverse Problems and was on the advisory board of Earth Sciences Frontiers and the Journal of Geophysics and Engineering.

With the Maurice Ewing Medal, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists honors Norman Bleistein not only as an exceptional applied mathematician who has made seminal contributions to the science and practice of geophysics but also as a passionate colleague and mentor to many practicing geophysicists around the world.

SEG Honorary Membership 2005

SEG is awarding Honorary Membership to Norman Bleistein for numerous reasons. Norman Bleistein received his PhD from the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences in 1965. He spent the following three years as an assistant professor at MIT, the next 14 years at Denver University, and then shifted to the Colorado School of Mines where he remained until retirement in 1999. However, although nominally retired, he is quite active to this day as a professor emeritus and research professor of geophysics. Norman Bleistein’s early work, with colleague Jack Cohen, on seismic inversion methods paved the way for many researchers over the past 25 years. He has had a tremendous influence with students—many of whomare prominent in today’s industry. For many years, Norm served as the director of the Center for Wave Phenomena at CSM which has long been one of the most successful industry-sponsored consortia. Norm is the author of several books and numerous papers and has made countless presentations. His tireless energy and his selflessness have, and continue to have, a dramatic impact on technology, students, colleagues, and friends.

Biography Citation for SEG Honorary Membership 2005 [2]

Contributed by Samuel Gray

It is a great pleasure to see my mentor, colleague, and friend, Norman Bleistein, receive Honorary Membership in SEG. Norm has long promoted a rigorous approach to seismic imaging problems, and his efforts have heightened our appreciation for the intricate relationships between mathematics and the physics of seismic wave propagation. Norm has excelled at communicating his ideas and his passion to generations of students and industrial colleagues. He has been generous in recognizing the contributions of others, and in bringing academic research groups closer together. And he has done it all with an infectious sense of joy.

Norm’s credentials include study with some of the masters of wave theory at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and a successful early career in the theory of asymptotic expansions (often using expressions that add up to infinity!). Many functions that describe waves have asymptotic expansions—Bessel functions, for example—and Norm’s interest in wave theory led him to inverse scattering problems. Mathematicians and physicists studied these problems, which were also interesting to geophysicists anxious to deduce properties inside the earth from surface measurements. This set of geophysicists includes the entire seismic exploration community.

Norm attacked these seismic inverse problems enthusiastically. With the late Jack K. Cohen, he wrote a classic paper on inverting seismic data for perturbations in seismic velocity. In another early paper, Norm and Jack discovered a relationship between what they called “inversion” and what geophysicists called “migration.” In the years before “inversion” became accepted as “amplitude-preserving” migration, geophysicists gained a better understanding of the nature of the signals that were being migrated. Nowadays, amplitude preservation is required in most migration projects.

At around that time, Norm and Jack initiated the Center for Wave Phenomena (CWP) at the University of Denver. When they moved to Colorado School of Mines in 1983, CWP moved also, with Norm as director. CWP has become one of the foremost academic geophysical consortia, making fundamental contributions in seismic modeling, imaging, and anisotropy. Norm was never content to run CWP in an academic vacuum; he constantly encouraged visits from members of sponsoring companies, faculty from other universities, and even researchers from “competing” academic consortia. The flow of visitors exposed CWP’s students to a world of relevant seismic problems. It also exposed them to many of the industry’s most talented scientists, and student/sponsor interactions evolved into successful industrial careers for many CWP graduates. However important CWP has been to Norm, he never let the organization come before the people. In one instance, Norm encouraged a brilliant Mines undergrad to take graduate studies at CWP. When the student expressed interest in visiting another university, Norm offered to pay for the visit with CWP funds! The student ended up at the other university and has since fared extremely well, but Norm has no regrets about “the one that got away.” Retirement in 1999 released Norm from administrative tasks, but his workload hasn’t decreased. In recent years, he has made extended professional visits to Brazil, China, and Germany. Such visits, and an active consulting career, have led Norm to wonder whether retirement might not be more work than a real job. Norm’s expanded mentorship has been recognized in appointments as University Professor Emeritus at Mines, and Visiting Professor at Chinese University for Geosciences, Wuhan. To take a break from retirement, Norm recently returned to an old hobby, photography. (Let’s not discuss tennis, or cycling, or chess.) Characteristically, Norm now finds himself busy teaching digital photography courses in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

Norm remains a pleasure to work with, even if he still feels the need to win every computational race. His insight into mathematical geophysics is keener than ever, and he is capping his career with new discoveries in seismic wave theory. It is the perfect time for Norm to be awarded SEG Honorary Membership.

Best Paper in Geophysics 2005

Dr. Bleistein received the SEG award for Best Paper in Geophysics in 2005 with Yu Zhang and Guanquan Zhang.[3]


  1. SEG Honors and Awards Ceremony in Official Program and Exhibitors Directory, SEG Denver 26-31 October 2014 p.36-49.
  2. Barkhouse, B. (2006). ”2005 Awards Citations.” The Leading Edge, 25(3), 292–303.
  3. Zhang, Y., Zhang, G., and Bleistein, N. (2005). ”Theory of true-amplitude one-way wave equations and true-amplitude common-shot migration.” GEOPHYSICS, 70(4), E1–E10.[1]