Vlastislav Cervený

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Vlastislav Cervený
Vlastislav Cerveny headshot.jpg
Membership Honorary Membership
PhD university Charles University, Prague

Vlastislav Cerveny has made lifetime contributions to the geophysics through his internationally recognized work in the ray theory of wave propagation. Although his work goes far beyond exploration geophysics and has advanced fundamental aspects of theoretical geophysics, its impact on exploration geophysics has been felt in every area of seismic modeling, imaging, and inversion. Professor Cerveny has spent his entire career at Charles University and has been mentor to many generations of students. In addition, his numerous sabbaticals to such institutions as the Universities of Toronto, California-Berkeley, Stanford, Cambridge, and Bahia have led to fruitful collaboration with leading geophysicists around the world. Cerveny’s life work appeared in the 2001 monograph Seismic Ray Theory, a publication that will have a lasting impact on seismic research. Cerveny has been honored with many previous awards, including Honorary Membership from SEG, the EAGE Schlumberger Award, and the European Geophysical Society’s Beno Gutenberg Award. In 2001, Cerveny received the Ernst Mach Honorary Medal for Merit in the Physical Sciences, the highest distinction that the Czech Academy gives to its scientists, and in 2002 he received gold medal awards from both Charles University and the Slovak Academy of Sciences. Vlastislav Cerveny has long been recognized as one of the outstanding geophysical researchers in the world, and is truly deserving of SEG’s highest award.

Biography Citation for the Maurice Ewing Medal 2004 [1]

Contributed by Ivan Psencik, Peter Hubral, and Sven Treitel

Professor Vlastislav (Slàva) Cerveny is well known among exploration geophysicists and seismologists through his many significant scientific contributions which he recently gathered in his comprehensive book Seismic Ray Theory.

Though mainly devoted to the theory of high-frequency wave propagation in laterally inhomogeneous media, either isotropic or anisotropic, this volume also provides much of the foundation for the familiar techniques of seismic stacking, inversion, and imaging. To this day many of our industrial seismic modeling packages continue to benefit from the truly innovative thinking of this creative scientist.

Early Years and Education

Slàva was born in Czechoslovakia. He studied at Charles University in Prague, where he obtained all his degrees and spent most of his career. There, and at several universities all around the globe, he taught and supervised many students. Several subsequently achieved influential positions in academia and exploration geophysics.

Professional Career

Despite the existence of the Iron Curtain, Slàva soon became known in the West through his numerous papers, books, and computer programs. His work gained worldwide prominence through a series of workshops he organized in his country that brought together, in the informal settings of quaint old Bohemian castles, geophysicists from both East and West— and in those days such meetings were rare indeed.

As Slàva’s international reputation grew, he received an increasing number of invitations to universities and research institutions from all over the world. Sadly enough, the onset of an illness several years ago has since forced him to discontinue such travel. Yet, and despite his failing health, he remains as active mentally today as he has always been.

Hard work and perseverance have been the consistent themes of his life. Traits such as these allowed him to cope with so many problems, not the least of which was facing life behind the Iron Curtain. Yet Slàva has not just lived by science alone; he enjoyed hiking and mountain climbing, or demonstrating his administrative skills as the respected head of the consortium Seismic Waves in Complex 3D Structures which he founded in 1992 with a number of his colleagues and former students. Over the years, Slàva has managed to develop ray theory into an efficient tool that embraces much more than the classic foundations of kinematic and dynamic ray tracing.

Its modern version now includes a number of novel concepts, among them the ray propagator matrix technique, the paraxial ray approximation, the superposition of Gaussian beams, the coupling theory, etc.

Slàva is known by his colleagues for his distinctive ability to present the most complicated concepts in simple language, yet without sacrificing either rigor or accuracy. This trait surely explains at least in part why he is today one of the most widely cited geophysicists in seismic wave propagation theory. Throughout his long career he has been well served by his uncanny scientific intuition.

Biography for Honorary Membership in SEG

Contributed by Peter Hubral and Ivan Psencik

At the end of this century the world is experiencing dramatic political changes and the SEG is adjusting quickly to them. Not only has SEG gone to Moscow this year, it also honors once more an eminent scientist in that part of the globe which for almost half a century was isolated from the remaining world. The SEG could not have chosen a more distinguished candidate than the Czechoslovakian geophysicist Vlastislav (Slava) Cerveny. Congratulations! According to the Honors and Awards Committee, Slava receives recognition for his "numerous contributions to exploration geophysics and the impact his work has on seismic simulation and imaging technology."

Slava never actually looked upon himself as an exploration geophysicist. In fact, he would probably deny any knowledge about seismic exploration. All his concern is with the investigation of wave propagation in complex media. What luck for exploration geophysicists! Nowhere is the earth more heterogeneous than in sedimentary basins that hide oil and gas resources. Nowhere can his well written papers and excellent books evoke more interest than in this field. Due to the universality of his work he finds, however, as many admirers in the earthquake- or deep-seismic sounding seismology as in exploration seismics.

Slava has a life-long love affair with the ray method. This is now one of the main tools in forward and inverse seismic modeling and seismic imaging. Who would only two years ago have thought that a 3-D seismic Kirchhoff-type prestack migration involving extensive traveltime computations would become practically feasible? Massively parallel computers have made it possible and Slava's widespread research on the ray method over three decades has largely contributed to this breakthrough.

Slava graduated in 1956 in physics from the Charles University in Prague. His talent was recognized early in the Institute of Geophysics of the Charles University, where he gained his PhD in 1961 and where he is now a full professor. His sustained contributions to wave theory led to many invitations. Often away from his family, he spent between three months and two years in places like Moscow, Halifax, Toronto, Cambridge, Paris, Karlsruhe, Stanford, Frankfurt, Kiel, Berkeley and Salvador-Bahia. He also went to China as a UNESCO expert. His MSc and PhD students are in the order of several tens. They remember Slava as a modest, uncomplicated, gifted and clear-minded scientist, who showed tremendous flexibility to adjust to any new working environment and scientific problem.

Slava is one of the principal developers of the asymptotic ray method (ART) and its various extensions. His book, with Ravi Ravindra, on head waves is the first milestone in his extraordinary scientific career. In the late '60s, when many of us still considered the earth one-dimensional, Slava already concentrated on wave propagation in layered inhomogeneous media. During that time, when research with anisotropic media was considered by many nothing more than a mental exercise, he already published a fundamental paper on the subject. Much of his impressive work is found in the book Ray Method in Seismology.

Modern ray theory cannot be conceived without such important concepts as dynamic ray tracing, paraxial ray approximation, Fresnel zones, and so forth, which he formulated jointly with Russian and Czechoslovakian colleagues. We are now looking forward to his new book, Seismic Ray Method, on which he is currently working.

Slava is as fluent in Russian as in English. This made it easy for him to become a "geophysical ambassador," bringing together experts from the east and west a long time before the Iron Curtain fell. His famous workshops in Liblice, which he started in 1978, have been an ideal forum for this.

Those who know Slava personally are impressed by his vitality and hardworking, well organized lifestyle. While many of us would suffer from too much self-discipline, Slava could not work without it. He needs a tight self-imposed daily working schedule and impresses others through his good sense of humor and his positive outlook on life.

Honorable Mention (Geophysics) 1993

V. Cerveny and J. E. P. Soares received 1992 Honorable Mention (Geophysics) for their paper Fresnel volume ray tracing.[2]


  1. Honors & Awards Program and Presidential Session COLORADOCONVENTION CENTER • DENVER, COLORADO 4 P.M., SUNDAY • 10 OCTOBER 2004
  2. Cerveny, V. and J. E. P. Soares (1992) Fresnel volume ray tracing, GEOPHYSICS, Vol. 57, No. 7, pp. 902-915.