James Rector

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James Rector
James W. Rector III 2020 headshot.png
Latest company University of California, Berkeley
BSc Mathematics (BA)
MSc Exploration Geophysics
PhD Geophysics
BSc university University of Wisconsin-Madison
MSc university Stanford University
PhD university Stanford University

James W. (Jamie) Rector III is a professor in the Engineering Geoscience group at the University of California at Berkeley who pioneered research in crosswell reflection methods.

2020 SEG Honorary Membership Award [1]

by Sven Treitel

James Rector was a major developer of seismic while drilling for which he was awarded the first J. Clarence Karcher Award in 1996. He has authored a large number of papers on a variety of topics. He has had a significant impact on SEG specifically, and the profession generally, in several different ways. To quote one of his nominators, “Rector is a seminal contributor in the study of tube wave analysis and removal; crosswell imaging; reverse time migration; passive seismic imaging; signal processing; finite difference and eikonal solvers; attenuation; the study of the near- field, near-source, and mode conversions; applications of machine learning; and, more recently, surface wave tomography.” Rector has also played a big role in mentoring students at University of California, Berkeley, has been a very successful entrepreneur, and has served as assistant and associate editor of Geophysics and as Vice President of the SEG Executive Committee. For his technical contributions, entrepreneurship, dedication to students, and service to the Society, we award Honorary Membership to James Rector.

Biography Citation for the 2020 SEG Honorary Membership Award

In my now more than six-decade-long career in geophysics, I have come across a never-ending series of fascinating characters. This year’s recipient of an SEG Honorary Membership is no exception. Jamie Rector entered the University of Wisconsin at the old age of 14 to study mathematics. Five years later, he had earned his BA in the field. It took him an extra year to graduate, as he simultaneously took up jazz piano at the Wisconsin Conservatory. From it he emerged at age 16 to play professionally — an activity he has successfully pursued to this day. He has continued his parallel musical career as a jazz pianist at San Francisco hotels and clubs, all while multitasking as a successful professor of geophysics at the University of California, Berkeley.

With his BA in hand Jamie joined Shell, where he acquired an on-the-job education in exploration geophysics. This experience inspired him to leave to attend an MS program in geophysics at Stanford University. There he acquired a good background in signal processing, which brought him an offer from yet another character in his own right: Bernie Widrow, then already a distinguished Stanford professor of electrical engineering with eclectic interests of his own. Bernie hired Jamie at age 23 to help him start a company called TOMEX to make use of the vibrations of the drill bit for continuous seismic recording. This was also the time I first met both these gentlemen when they visited Amoco to seek support for their novel ideas. The work led to several patents, and in 2008 Jamie received the Legends of Seismic While Drilling Award from the Society of Petroleum Engineers. This work was one of the first practical examples of seismic interferometry, even before that term had been coined.

Eventually, Jamie returned to Stanford to work on his PhD in geophysics. Here he became interested in borehole and cross-borehole seismology — both fields in which he then made and has continued to make very significant contributions. He received his doctorate in 1990, and in 1992 he joined the Engineering Geoscience Group at Berkeley, where he is now a full professor. During the almost 30 years in this capacity, he has become widely published and has mentored an impressive group of students, including Heidi Anderson Kuzma, who published some of the first geophysical work that used modern methods of machine learning. While an academic, Jamie has also served as a consultant to industry. He was a cofounder of TOMOSEIS, a company specializing in cross-borehole seismology. In later years, Jamie’s expertise veered away from borehole seismology to environmental and near-surface seismology. He used surface waves and shallow vertical seismic profiles (VSP) to better understand near-surface wave propagation and thereby gain better insights about near-surface geology. He was also contributed to microseismic developments, having published an early paper on the subject in 1992.

During the past quarter century Jamie has participated in a variety of other commercial ventures. In 1998, he founded Berkeley Geo-Imaging (BGI), an investment fund to explore for buried treasure in the Philippines. He used the 3D VSP and surface wave technology developed during his research to find “treasure” anomalies. If you watch old Unsolved Mysteries television shows, you will see interviews with locals sporting BGI caps. No treasure was ever discovered — only old machine guns and propellers. So, by 2001, he and his partners had converted BGI into a small oil and investment fund, making good use of Jamie’s seismic expertise with small independent projects. In 2004, the Illinois Oil and Gas Association named Jamie the “Wildcatter of the Year” for his discovery of the Forbes Lake Field. Throughout the early 2000s, he continued to reprocess and reinterpret seismic data and to discover new fields in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and the U.S. Gulf Coast area.

Jamie has contributed actively to SEG affairs. He was an assistant editor of Geophysics from 1993 to 1995 and in 1996 was the recipient of the J. Clarence Karcher Award. He served as SEG vice president in 2008–2009 and was instrumental in the acceleration of SEG Online. With this Honorary Membership, SEG recognizes the singular achievements of one of its most creative and original geophysicists. His career is indeed one that students of applied geophysics may well wish to contemplate, as it provides a living example of a person who can find a stimulating and rewarding career through contributions in widely differing aspects of our profession.

"James W. Rector III, 1996"

1996 SEG J. Clarence Karcher Award [2] [3]

by H.F. Morrison

The SEG J. Clarence Karcher Award is presented this year to Professor James W. Rector, III of the Engineering Geoscience Group at the University of California at Berkeley.

Biography Citation for the 1996 SEG J. Clarence Karcher Award

Jamie's dynamic career has led to interna- tional recognition for his work in subsurface seismic methods and innovative commercial enterprise. In academia, his performance in teaching and research resulted in his promotion to tenure last year. All of this occurred before age 35.

Jamie may be accustomed to what seems accelerated progress to his peers. He started the University of Wisconsin as a math major at 14 and in parallel attended the Wisconsin Conservatory Jazz Piano Program where he polished his musical skills to the point of playing professionally at 16. To make sure that his educational experience was well rounded, he played golf in state junior tournaments and finished in the top 20 in the state amateur at age 18. After finishing his B.A. in math at age 19, with an eclectic course program that he insists actually did contain some math and physics, he accepted an offer from Shell and discovered the world of geophysics.

In the oil boom of the early 1980s, his work as a geophysicist was exciting and the job included an offer to return to a university for a graduate degree. Jamie entered the exploration pro- gram at Stanford and received his M.S. in 1984. His work at Stanford included considerable signal processing, and he received an offer from a small startup company that was strug- gling to perfect a novel seis- mic technique using drill-bit noise for continuous VSP surveying. TOMEX was founded by Bernie Widrow, and at the age of 23 Jamie was the youngest and only geophysicist on the team. His contributions were critical to the eventual success of the idea and he became committed to research and development in exploration seismology.

Jamie returned to Stanford for his Ph.D. where he did pioneering work in crosswell reflection methods. He has published many papers in this area and is now regarded as one of the leading research scientists in the world in the field of borehole and cross borehole seismology. Jamie joined the faculty of the Engineering Geoscience Group at Berkeley in 1992 and has built a strong research program involving graduate students, research geophysicists, and faculty and staff colleagues on the Berkeley campus, at the Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore national labs. Since his graduation in 1990, Jamie has pub- lished more than 11 papers in refereed journals; two on which he was co-author won best paper awards. The latest, in 1994, was with one of his current graduate students, John W ashbourne. He was assistant editor for GEOPHYSICS from 1993- 1995 and has an enviable teaching record in both general undergraduate engi- neering courses and graduate courses in signal processing and applied seismology. In parallel with these achievements, he is also a founder and active participant in Tomoseis, a compa-ny specializing in crosshole seismic surveys.

The award citation would not be complete without some sincere acknowledgment of Jamie Rector's qualities as a superb colleague and well rounded person of wit, charm, and talent. It is fair to say that everyone who has worked with him has enjoyed the encounter and has been challenged and impressed by the depth and breadth of his technical knowledge. If this were not enough, Jamie finds time to play first-rate golf and organize and play in a popular professional band.

We are fortunate to have such a gifted individ- ual in the geophysics community. James Rector epitomizes the qualities sought for this award.

Honors and Awards


  1. 2020 Honors and Awards Ceremony Program, 13 Oct 2020, Houston
  2. Honors and Awards Program, 1996, Denver, CO
  3. Awards Citations of the SEG Page 163
  4. Harris, J. M., et al. (1995) High-resolution crosswell imaging of a west Texas carbonate reservoir: Part 1 - Project summary and interpretation, GEOPHYSICS 60(3):667.
  5. Rector, J. W., and B. P. Marion (1991) The use of drill-bit energy as a downhole seismic source, GEOPHYSICS May 1991, Vol. 56, No. 5, pp. 628-634.

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