Gerald Mavko

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Gerald Mavko
Gary Mavko headshot.jpg
Membership Honorary Member
PhD university Stanford University

Gerald M. (Gary) Mavko is a Professor of geophysics at Stanford University. He received his Ph.D. in geophysics from Stanford in 1977. Gary then joined the Tectonophysics branch of the USGS in Menlo Park where he worked in areas of rock physics and earthquake fault mechanics. He returned to Stanford in February, 1989, and is now Professor (Research) of Geophysics. Mavko was a 2006 Distinguished Lecturer of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists. In 2001 he was elected an Honorary Member of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists "for his deep understanding of rock physics and for the distillation of his ideas into the “squirt” theory for porous, saturated rocks".

Gary Mavko co-directs the "Stanford Rock Physics and Borehole Geophysics Project" (SRB), a group of approximately 25 researchers (faculty, research associates, post-docs, and graduate students), working on problems related to wave propagation in earth materials - the field of Rock Physics. The goal is to better understand how rocks, pore fluids, and physical conditions of temperature and stress impact wave propagation, particularly in disordered, heterogeneous media.

Interview with Gary Mavko: Spring 2006 SEG Distinguished Lecturer[1]

TLE Editorial Board member Satinder Chopra interviewed Gary Mavko after he gave the lecture “Rock Physics Strategies for Facies and Fluids Detection” in Calgary in April. Unfortunately, Mavko had to cut short the 2006 Spring Distinguished Lecturer Tour because of an injury. Fortunately, the lecture was recorded and is available for viewing at


Speak a little about your educational background and work experience for the benefit of our members.


My first university studies were at Cornell, where I majored in engineering physics. At that time I really didn’t know what specialty or career path I wanted to take, so I thought that engineering and physics were a good way to start out in the sciences. When I was finishing up in the early 1970s, the employment outlook for physicists was pretty bleak. It was my older brother who suggested that I look into this thing called “geophysics,” and the rest is history. I came to Stanford University to work toward a PhD. I needed to interrupt my graduate studies, because I had a military obligation related to the Vietnam War. I left Stanford for a couple of years, and then

I returned and was able to finish my PhD in 1977. After getting my PhD, I spent another year at Stanford as a postdoc and started developing some research, but also some courses to teach. I moved to the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, which is just a few miles away from Stanford. I was there approximately six years. At the USGS I was in the program called Earthquake Prediction. That was a fascinating area and certainly a topic that has a lot of importance. In fact Stanford University and my home are subject to tremendous seismic hazards. I left the USGS in 1984. An old classmate of mine was involved with a start-up called Entropic Geophysical, a small seismic processing company. It was a terrific opportunity for me to get my feet wet in the oil industry.

I probably would not have been hired if it hadn’t been for friends, because I had very little signal processing experience at that time. The intellectual reason for me to change jobs was simply the degree to which my work involved data. I found the earthquake prediction problem to be very frustrating, because we could build model after model and could never really critically test the models because of the difficulty of what we called “capturing an earthquake.” In contrast, a challenge at Entropic Geophysical—or I should say the economic challenge—was partly that there was too much data. The profitability of the company was related, in part, to how much data you could get through the computers in a day. It was a wonderful change for me to do that; I also really enjoyed the challenges of working for a small company and the chance to have an impact. I felt that while working for the government, the impact that I could have was limited, while in a small company I could do good things or bad things that really mattered to the organization. In 1989 Professor Amos Nur provided an opportunity for me to return to Stanford, and again, that was a completely different environment. One of the things that makes working at a university so interesting is the constant flow of students. That’s one thing that the government labs and even many companies don’t enjoy—this continuing flux of brilliant people.

You addressed this briefly, but would you like to add what the differences you perceived were when you moved from a government organization to a private company and then to the university?

Well, there were differences in the size. Certainly the USGS, as part of the government, was an enormous organization. There, one of my frustrations was the bureaucracy. So, completely aside from the science we were doing, there was extra regulation and quite a bit of politics that got involved.

At a small company it was completely the opposite. Your office was two doors down from the company president; of course, you were still subject to what your boss said, but things were much more streamlined.

The university is somewhere in between. Intellectually, I feel that I worked with very bright and dedicated people in all three organizations, but the part that is so unique about the university is the wonderful continuing flow of young people.

You enjoy exceptional professional status today. To what would you attribute this development? Was it a tremendous amount of hard work or anything else?

That’s a tough one. Well, you know I have to say it’s an accident. I didn’t begin my life planning to have a good technical reputation or fame. Of course I always wanted to have the reputation for being a good worker, but fame is elusive. Looking back, one thing that I have really valued, and really benefited from, is working with people who are smarter than me. One should never pass up an opportunity to be surrounded by brilliant people, and to appreciate them.

Honorable Mention (Geophysics) 1998

Gerald (Gary) M. Mavko and Tapan Mukerji received 1998 Honorable Mention (Geophysics) for their paper Bounds on low-frequency seismic velocities in partially saturated rocks.[2]


  1. Chopra, S. (2006). ”Interview with Gary Mavko: Spring 2006 SEG Distinguished Lecturer.” The Leading Edge, 25(8), 956–959.
  2. Mavko, G. M. and T. Mukerji (1998) 'Bounds on low-frequency seismic velocities in partially saturated rocks, GEOPHYSICS 63(3):91.