Yunyue Elita Li

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Yunyue Elita Li
Yunyue Elita Li headshot.png
PhD Geophysics
PhD university Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Yunyue Elita Li has seven first-authored papers in Geophysics, one in The Leading Edge, plus a coauthorship in Geophysical Journal International — all developed since receiving her doctorate degree in 2014. Li has received Honorable Mention for Best Paper in Geophysics and ranked in the top 30 papers presented at the 2016 SEG Annual Meeting in Dallas. She has a strong collection of nomination letters that note her ability to work with and organize large groups as well as her service contributions. She is very active within SEG, working on the Translations Committee and three different conference-organizing committees. Li has worked in full-waveform inversion, rock physics, and mathematics, and has worked on integrating rock physics constraints into inversion for anisotropic parameters. She has been advancing the idea of moving beyond the conventional acquisition/processing/interpretation flow. As noted by one nominator, Li's work has been “… at the forefront of efforts to understand the complex relationships linking seismic acquisition, seismic processing, and quantitative interpretation.”

Biography Citation for the SEG 2018 J. Clarence Karcher Award [1]

by Arthur Cheng

I first met Elita at the end of August 2014 when she started her postdoctoral work at the Earth Resources Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), having graduated from Stanford. I learned then that she had turned down more lucrative job offers from the industry and wanted to stay in academics, and I invited her to apply for a position at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Her performance during the job interview was impressive because of her ability to explain highly technical content to engineers who had not heard of geophysics before. Subsequently, she was offered a position and joined NUS as an assistant professor in July 2016.

Elita's doctoral research was most recognized for her vision of tying various measurements and characterizations of the earth's subsurface through a well-defined common rock physics model. She designed an integrated inversion scheme that simultaneously honors geologic prior knowledge, seismic data, and rock physics models. In her thesis, she applied this inversion method to a Gulf of Mexico data set and obtained better vertical symmetry axis (VTI) models as well as better-focused seismic images. Her efforts in closing the loop from seismic imaging to earth model building were highly praised by the geophysical community. Her thesis work was highlighted by Sam Gray in his “Recent advances and road ahead” presentation at the 2014 SEG Annual Meeting. Her paper, “Integrated VTI model building with seismic, geological and rock physics data: Part I — Theory and synthetic examples,” won Honorable Mention for Best Paper in Geophysics in 2016. This framework is suitable in a multitude of applications in many industries and is truly translational.

During her postdoctoral research, Elita significantly broadened her horizons by working with Professor Laurent Demanet in the Department of Mathematics at MIT. To solve the fundamental problem of lacking low-frequency data for full-waveform inversion, she investigated the smooth nature of the phase function of an individual seismic event. This simple yet powerful formulation of an event separation problem enables frequency extrapolation beyond the recorded bandwidth. In particular, the extrapolated low frequencies could potentially solve the cycle-skipping problem that severely jeopardizes the practical applications of full-waveform inversion. Her presentation on “Extrapolated full-waveform inversion with synthesized low-frequency data” was ranked in the top 30 papers presented at the SEG Annual Meeting in 2016.

Having worked closely with Elita for the past two years since her arrival at NUS, I am constantly amazed by her broad interest in geophysical research and her ability to perform and to lead a research group. While she has continued innovations in seismic imaging and integrated model building, she has expanded her research from oil and gas to other applications, such as near-surface site investigation, deep underground characterization for water resources, and look-ahead while tunneling. We have grown the group from a three-person team to a 10-person team, working on research topics including seismic imaging and inversion, attenuation characterization, passive seismic monitoring, distributed acoustic sensing, rock physics modeling, and fracture characterization. With her guidance, leadership, and diligence, these research efforts with students and postdocs resulted in six submitted manuscripts to Geophysics and 14 submitted abstracts to the SEG Annual Meeting in 2017 and 2018. Once again, her presentation at the 2017 SEG Annual Meeting, “Anisotropic model building from logs in vertical wells,” was selected as one of the 39 best presentations at the meeting. She is without a doubt one of the best young scientists whom I have worked with over my long career, both at MIT and in private industry.

Elita has been very active in the Singapore geophysics community and within SEG. She organized two workshops in 2017 and 2018 to gather geoscientists in Southeast Asia for academic and industry discussion and to cultivate the geophysical mindset in Singapore. She helped start and is the faculty advisor of the new NUS SEG Student Chapter. She is representing SEG on OTC Asia and IPTC subcommittees and is presently serving on the SEG Publications Committee. In addition, she is on the organizing committee for the 5th International Workshop on Rock Physics to be held in Hong Kong in April 2019.

The J. Clarence Karcher Award is given in recognition of significant contributions to the science and technology of exploration geophysics by a young geophysicist of outstanding abilities. What Elita has achieved in her early career and her potential to achieve more makes her a well-deserved recipient of this award, and I am very fortunate to have her as my colleague.


  1. The Leading Edge Volume 37, Issue 11