Sheng Xu

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Sheng Xu
Sheng Xu headshot 2016.png

SEG Reginald Fessenden Award 2016 [1]

Sheng Xu and Gilles Lambaré are being recognized as the researchers who initiated the concept of common-angle migration and who first demonstrated the potential of that approach to seismic imaging. The file of recommendation letters is massive and includes some real SEG heavyweights. These letter writers point out an oversight that must be corrected; i.e., SEG has given two Fessenden Awards to people who expanded the ideas of Xu and Lambaré, but we have failed to recognize the duo who initiated the idea.

Biography Citation for the SEG Reginald Fessenden Award 2016

bu Yu Zhang

In 1986, when Sheng Xu was accepted to Peking University as an undergraduate student, he could barely speak Mandarin. All of his elementary education was obtained in a mountainous rural county and taught in the local dialect. Ten years later, Sheng was selected by the nation to receive his PhD training at École des Mines de Paris (now MINES ParisTech). He was completely lost in all the French geologic terminology during his first-year classes. However, language has never been a barrier for Sheng to distinguish himself among his peers. He has mastered mathematics, physics, and computer programming as his gifted languages to better understand the world, and to contribute his fresh viewpoints and innovative solutions to our society.

The awarded work, common-angle migration, was proposed by Sheng Xu and his PhD advisor, Gilles Lambaré, at École des Mines de Paris. In the late 1990s, the industry commercialized prestack depth migration to image complex structures and used offset gathers to analyze velocity models. Sheng was asked to implement multiarrival true-amplitude Kirchhoff migration as part of his PhD work. To their surprise, Sheng’s offset gathers looked horribly chaotic in the most complex regions of the model, even with an accurate migration velocity. Gilles’s initial response was that Sheng’s code must have had a bug. However, Sheng went over his code meticulously, insisting it to be bug-free. To break the deadlock, Gilles wrote his own Kirchhoff migration code but shockingly received results as horribly chaotic as Sheng’s. The student and mentor realized they were at the door of a new discovery: one should avoid using offset, or any surface attribute, to index the gathers. The natural solution is to use the reflection angle domain, where the messy gathers are resolved into tidier images. The angle domain common-imaging gather has become the foundation of modern imaging/inversion theory. This beautiful discovery marked the beginning of Sheng’s legendary journey in exploration geophysics.

After graduating in 2001, Sheng joined Paradigm in Houston, Texas, and initiated the development of CRAM, a successful commercial package implementing angle domain Kirchhoff migration.

Sheng later joined Veritas, and successively CGG, in 2003. As a colleague, I worked with Sheng closely and observed his incomparable research and development capabilities. Sheng was first assigned to correct water-column statics, which had been worked on by several developers yet still frequently fell apart on real data. It took Sheng two months to redevelop the software. Since then, water-column statics has never been a problem.

Later, Sheng switched to data regularization and invented the well-known anti-leakage Fourier transform technique. From 2006 to 2012, Sheng dedicated himself to raytracing-based anisotropic imaging and tomography, creating a long list of production software and publications. During this time, it was my privilege to collaborate with Sheng on true-amplitude wave equation migrations, turning-wave one-way wave equation migration, and 3D RTM angle gathers.

Sheng left CGG in 2012 and joined Statoil as a lead researcher. His pace of research has accelerated, as he is now responsible for designing the high-end depth-imaging package. Sheng’s recent achievements are remarkable, including an efficient TTI RTM algorithm, dispersion free finite-difference schemes, and joint local tomographic inversion.

Sheng is a gifted person, one with skills rarely found anywhere. I seldom see him making a mistake when analyzing a geophysical problem. He understands geophysics in a fundamental way, and he is very careful to avoid being trapped in the “common wisdom.” He knows how to keep a good balance between theoretical elegance and numerical feasibility in his solutions. Additionally, Sheng’s talent extends to fields beyond geophysics. It is greatly enjoyable and enlightening to discuss any intellectual topic with him. I am sure Sheng Xu could just as easily pursue other professions and do just as well as he does in his current one. We are lucky to have him in geophysics and to see how his talents impact our world.


  1. SEG Honors and Awards Ceremony, SEG Dallas 18 October 2016, Omni Dallas Hotel, Dallas Ballroom, International Exposition and Eighty-Sixth Annual Meeting, Dallas, Tx, p, 26.

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