Norman Ricker

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Norman Ricker
Norman Ricker headshot.png


Biography Citation for the Reginald Fessenden Award

Contributed by W. M. Rust, Jr.

The Society of Exploration Geophysicists this year has changed the name of the SEG Medal Award to the Reginald Fessenden Medal Award, which is presented for a specific contribution to exploration geophysics.

Reginald Fessenden was awarded a United States patent sixty years ago, on September 18, 1917, for a "Method and Apparatus for Locating Ore Bodies." It consisted of an electro-acoustic transducer that applied a short burst of relatively high-frequency elastic wave energy to the earth and of a receiver and recorder that subsequently recorded the energy reflected, refracted, and scattered from within the subsurface. The invention was promptly applied to underwater sound ranging and detecting. But, as we are all acutely aware, it did not become useful in geophysical exploration until the advent of powerful low-frequency earth vibrators together with reproducible recording and sophisticated data processing techniques.

Fessenden was a geophysical prophet who clearly saw a need and as clearly saw an answer. But like many of our geophysical prophets, he was too far ahead of the technologies on which exploration geophysics feeds. If the requisite technology advances rapidly enough, their contribution becomes great. Otherwise their solution may be forgotten before it becomes practical. For example: Frank Reiber introduced reproducible seismic recording using a sound on film technique, which had marginal practicality, but almost immediately magnetic recording advanced to the state where the idea opened the door to a geophysical revolution. On the other hand, his Geovision, utilizing a cathode ray tube to provide a crude Kirchhoff migration, has become practical only in very recent times.

Today we are honoring, with the Reginald Fessenden Medal, a distinguished geophysical prophet, who is seeing his vision become a practical reality. Norman Ricker is a man who has always been unable to accept easy compromises. He has insisted that even his most creative and imaginative thoughts be disciplined. He has never ignored facts because they made the solution of a truly difficult problem difficult. He has never praised the king's fictitious clothes.

Norman Ricker saw on every seismic record facts that contradicted the fundamental results of classic elastic wave theory. When an elastics pulse is applied to the earth, the result at a distance is not a scaled down duplicate of the applied pulse. There are significant differences depending on both the distance and the nature of the earth materials. These differences could not be shrugged off by Norman in deference to the king.

He was compelled to make fundamental studies of the problem. In a series of papers, which are now classics, he developed a rigorous theory, which gave results that agree with our daily experience. The king had a new set of clothes.

In the course of this analysis, Ricker made many developments which have found their way into every day prospecting. His emphasis on the wavelet concept is recognized as fundamental to a full understanding of the seismic process.

s the Honors and Awards Committee states, "he deserves the Award for his formulation of the 'Ricker Wavelet.' Recent work on signature deconvolution and on associated signal enhancement techniques has brought out the pioneering status of Dr. Ricker's work on wavelets. Much of his analysis may now be considered as having been prescient."

It is an honor and pleasure to present the Reginald Fessenden Medal to a prophet who has attained honor in his own time, Dr. Norman H. Ricker.