J. E. White

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J. E. White
J. E. White headshot.jpg
Latest company Colorado School of Mines
President year 1968
Membership Honorary
BSc Physics
MSc Physics
PhD Physics
BSc university UT Austin
MSc university UT Austin
PhD university MIT

James Edward (Ed) White (May 10,1918-January 30, 2003) was a noted geophysical researcher in industry and in academia. Dr. White was a professor of the Colorado School of Mines, the first holder of the Charles Henry Green Chair of Exploration Geophysics at CSM, the 1968-1969 SEG President and a recipient of SEG's Maurice Ewing Medal. Dr. White was noted for numerous patents and papers and was an active investigator almost until his death in 2003.


Professor Emeritus of Geophysics, Dr. James Edward (Ed) White died January 30, 2003.[1][2]

Ed White was a greatly respected and accomplished scientist both in the geophysics industry and in academia. At Colorado School of Mines, Dr. White was the first occupant of the Charles Henry Green Chair of Exploration Geophysics, a position he held from 1976 to 1988.

As an educator at CSM, he received the Halliburton Award for outstanding teaching and scholarship. He was known for his ability to communicate difficult concepts, deriving special joy from devising models to illustrate them. Many of his former students are renowned geophysicists in their own right in countries around the globe.

Early Years and Education

Ed was born in Cherokee, Texas, May 10, 1918. He graduated as valedictorian from high school in Fredericksburg, Texas. He received a B.A. and M.A. in physics with honors from the University of Texas-Austin in 1940 and 1946, respectively. He married Courtenay Brumby in Houston, February 1, 1941. During World War II, J. E. White was the director of the Underwater Sound Laboratory of the U.S. Naval Research Center at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He received his Ph.D. in physics from MIT in 1949.

Professional Career

He joined Magnolia-Mobil laboratories, Dallas, as Supervisor of Geophysics Field Research (1949-1955). Dr. White and his family lived in Littleton, Colorado, from 1955 to 1969 where he was one of the founders of Marathon Research Center (originally Ohio Oil Company). During thirty years of research for Mobil and Marathon oil companies, Dr. White made seminal contributions to four areas of seismic prospecting that are increasingly used and valued today: shear-wave prospecting, vertical seismic profiling, full-waveform acoustic logging, and attenuation of seismic waves.

J.E. White was one of the first American geophysicists to visit Russia, establishing and fostering close and enduring ties with the Russian geophysical community. In 1965, Dr. White, as a member of a six-man delegation sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, surveyed the status of geophysical exploration in the Soviet Union. He traveled to the Soviet Union in 1971 and then spent an academic year (1973-74) as part of an exchange program between the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Soviet Academy of Sciences. While in Moscow at the Institute of Physics of the Earth, he was able to visit centers of applied geophysical research throughout the Soviet Union.

In 1968, as President of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG), Ed encouraged the global expansion of geophysical societies and encouraged international collaborations. In 1981, geophysicists from the United States and from China jointly chaired a conference in Beijing. Ed was one of forty geophysicists who spent three weeks visiting geophysicists across China. As in his trips to the Soviet Union, Ed made a point of asking to see geophysicists who had not been heard from during the difficult years of the cultural revolution. He was honored to acknowledge those individuals and their contributions.

In 1987, Dr. White was selected by the National Academy of Engineering to conduct a month-long evaluation of the academic program of Changchun College of Geology in Jilin Province of Manchuria. Impressed with the quality of the students and especially their competency in mathematics, Ed enjoyed teaching two intensive courses there. His collaborations and those of many others resulted in increased exchange of faculty and students between the U.S. and China.

In addition to accomplishments in industry, Dr. White achieved international recognition in academic circles.

Prior to his appointment at CSM, he was Lloyd Nelson Professor at the University of Texas in El Paso from 1973 to 1976. He was also a visiting professor at the University of Texas-Austin, MIT, and the University of Sydney, Australia.

He authored several textbooks that have been widely used and recognized. He published dozens of papers and was issued over twenty patents. In 2000, SEG published Seismic Waves: Collected Works of J.E. White.

Among his many awards and recognitions, he received the prestigious Maurice Ewing Gold Medal from the SEG in 1986 and in 1989, he was selected to the National Academy of Engineering. He is survived by this wife, Courtenay, four children and seven grandchildren. [3]

Biography Citation for the Maurice Ewing Medal 1986

Contributed by Sven Treitel

Having received the request to write this citation for Ed White, I began by browsing through his list of published articles. Although I had gone through many of them throughout the years, my curiosity was aroused by one that had thus far escaped me, Computed waveforms in transversely isotropic media, which appeared in the May 1982 issue of Geophysics. I began to read; and the more I read, the more I wanted to read. Rather than launch into my citation, I got distracted: I was learning some geophysics about which I knew little. All at once it dawned on me why Ed White is receiving our Society's highest award: he is a teacher par excellence, one who not only has created new science, but one who knows how to communicate his ideas in lucid and polished prose.

Ed is a living contradiction of the old canard that no scientist produces anything worthwhile beyond age thirty (or is it forty?). His creative career spans more than 45 years. He conducted research for the US Navy during World War II, and became the director of the MIT Underwater Sound Laboratory. After receiving a Ph.D. in physics and electrical engineering from MIT in 1949, he spent the next two decades in industry first with Mobil, then with Marathon, and subsequently with Globe Universal Sciences. At an age when many might contemplate a life of comfortable committee work while resting on previously acquired laurels, Ed began a second and equally challenging career as a teacher and he is still going strong as I write.

Ed has made significant advances in several major fields of geophysics. He was among the first to deal with the theoretical aspects of what today is known as "full-waveform sonic logging," and he did some of the earlier work in vertical seismic profiling. During his years at Mobil, he and his co-workers carried out a classical study which measured the attenuation of shear and compressional waves in the Pierre Shale, and which they published in Geophysics in 1958. In 1973, and sparked by the surge of interest in "bright spots," Ed developed a model to account for the observed high attenuation of partially gas saturated porous rocks.

Shear waves captured Ed's interest early on, and he and a co-worker at Mobil filed a patent on Shear wave exploration in 1952. Ed's work with shear waves in turn led him to investigate stress wave phenomena in a transversely isotropic medium, with important implications on our ability to understand observed anisotropy in rocks. Ed's impressive list of papers in these areas is complemented by three books: the first Seismic Waves, appeared in 1965 and has become a standard reference work. The second, Underground Sound, was published in 1983. A third volume, co-authored with his one-time associate Ray Sengbush, deals with the newly emerging fields of production seismology and is about to appear in print. A prolific technical career hardly kept Ed from contributing his time to the affairs of many technical societies. He was a Vice-President of the SEG in 1964-1965, and served as our President from 1967 to 1968.

He is an Honorary Member of the SEG and a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America; the Maurice Ewing Medal is merely the latest in Ed's long series of professional awards. Over the years, Ed participated in numerous international scientific programs: he was a delegate of the US State Department for the 1965 US-USSR geophysics exchange, an exchange scientist to the USSR and Yugoslavia for the National Academy of Sciences in 1973-74, and an Esso Visiting Professor to the University of Sydney in 1975. Ed's scientific accomplishments are of course his own. Yet I wonder whether he would have achieved the recognition and status he now enjoys without the encouragement and understanding he has received from Courtenay, his wife of many years, and from his children.

I first met Ed when he interviewed me for a job eons ago while I was a graduate student at MIT. Little did I imagine then that some thirty years later I would be writing the citation for such a respected colleague and warm friend. The SEG honors Ed White for his singular achievements as a scholar and as a teacher. As long as our profession can attract people of Ed's talents and dedication, the future for geophysics is not bleak, not now, not ever.


  1. The Leading Edge, May 2003, Vol. 22, No. 5
  2. Also appeared in the Colorado School of Mines Geophysics Department Newsletter for 2003
  3. Dolores Proubasta (1994). ”J. Ed White.” The Leading Edge, 13(6), 658-661. doi: 10.1190/1.1437024

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