Richard Alford

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Richard Alford
Rusty Alford headshot.png
Latest company Amoco

Richard M. (Rusty) Alford an American geophysicist and early investigator in seismic anisotropy.

Citation for receiving the 1990 Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal

Contributed by Sven Treitel

There are advantages that come with seniority: one is that I could personally witness Richard (Rusty) Alford's prolific scientific career from its very outset to its present peak. Today we honor Rusty for his singular contributions to the acquisition, processing, and interpretation of shear-wave recordings in the field. Some of us excel in one or the other of these stages of the exploration process. Rusty performs nimbly in all three. He is a masterful designer of the crucial experiment needed to check out an idea. He has a natural flair to apply just the right processing software to the right problem, and to invent novel schemes where he finds nothing that works. Most importantly perhaps, he also has the innate talent to distill geologic information and meaning from what he measures. These are the traits that enabled Rusty to develop his now widely used multicomponent trace rotation algorithm, and which allowed him to confirm the existence of the shear wave birefringence phenomenon in field recordings. He thereby provided the key to an entirely novel acquisition and processing approach, which is now finding widespread use in such areas as fracture trend delineation and reservoir geophysics in general.

Rusty first came to Amoco's Tulsa Research Center as a summer student in the early '70s. At that time he was taking a course at the University of Tulsa (TU) taught by Rup Kaul, a member of a small team of gifted theoreticians I was then fortunate enough to direct. I distinctly remember Rup telling me that he had "this student" who did not seem to have much of an idea of where he was going, but who had excellent potential. We asked Rusty to work on our finite-difference wave equation modeling project, which had just started to show some potential. In a matter of months, Rusty, the supposedly aimless student, solved some problems that had us veterans stumped for a long time. I do not recall that Rusty has spent any time in idle motion ever since. Quite evidently, the needed spark kindled the flame which has continued to burn to this day. I cannot help but wonder how many other "Rustys" are out there, whose talents we are not tapping because we have never made contact.

Rusty received his BS in electrical engineering from TU in 1971; soon thereafter, we were able to put him on full-time at our Research Center. He was encouraged to continue his schooling, which resulted in an MS in electrical engineering from TU in 1976. In the early '80s, Rusty began to tire of finite differences and decided to seek other (I cannot bring myself to say greener) pastures. He found his lush meadow in the shear-wave work for which he is being awarded the Kauffman Gold Medal today. Perhaps the high water mark of Rusty's career came at the 1986 SEG Convention in Houston. Here Rusty and a number of his fellow Amoco scientists presented a collection of memorable papers dealing with the theoretical and experimental aspects of shear-wave birefringence. It is to the credit of Gordon Greve, Amoco's Geophysical Research Manager at the time, that this work was allowed to enter the public domain, where it subsequently provided the stimulus for a vast amount of significant further research by numerous other investigators.

It would be an egregious error to assume that Rusty has restricted his interests to science alone. Along the way, he managed to become a hang glider aficionado although his flying phase came to an abrupt end as a result of a fall which demolished his teeth, but luckily not his propensity for original thought. He then became interested in the safer sport of car racing; for a while, motorcycles also seemed to strike his fancy. Along the way he did have the good sense to marry his charming wife, Celeste.

Rusty Alford has traveled a long path from his beginning as a student with no clear idea where his talents might lie. Fortunately for our profession, he can now look back on a career that other geophysicists might do well to emulate. Knowing Rusty, I know that he still sees a few more hills to climb.