Math+X grant brings applied mathematician/seismologist to Rice

Maarten de Hoop plans Rice, industry collaborations on inverse problems, big data

Rice University today announced that applied mathematician and seismologist Maarten de Hoop has accepted a newly created faculty position that was established with a substantial grant from the Simons Foundation’s Math+X Program. De Hoop said the move to Houston will facilitate in-depth research collaborations between his research group and the energy industry.

De Hoop will join Rice as the Simons Chair in Computational and Applied Mathematics and Earth Science on July 1. He is currently a professor of mathematics and Earth and atmospheric sciences at Purdue University, where he has spent the past 10 years developing an industry-university research consortium with significant federal and industrial support. He worked in industry for both Shell and Schlumberger prior to pursuing an academic career.

“Moving to Rice is a tremendous opportunity because it is in the heart of Houston, which is both the world’s energy capital and the epicenter of the seismic industry,” de Hoop said. “Rice has all of the resources in place to help bring together the analytical side of exploration and global seismology with the ‘big data’ side. I believe this represents the future of the field.”

De Hoop’s research centers on “inverse problems,” a field in applied and computational mathematics in which researchers begin with a set of observations and work backward to calculate the causal factors that produced them.

“My motivation for studying inverse problems is to fundamentally improve the understanding of our planet’s interior,” de Hoop said. “I develop analyses and techniques to essentially make images of Earth’s structure, material properties and quantities controlling Earth dynamics. A key means to do that comes from seismology. My research group exploits seismic waves while also integrating inverse source problems to help identify and reconstruct the characteristics of ruptures, tremors and other seismic features.”

De Hoop said Rice is already a leading center for inversion in geosciences, thanks to The Rice Inversion Project, a prominent industry-academic consortium launched by Rice applied mathematician Bill Symes in the early 1990s. De Hoop said he plans to collaborate closely with Symes and other faculty in the departments of Computational and Applied Mathematics and Earth Science on geophysical inverse problems, imaging and geodynamics research.

Maarten de Hoop

Maarten de Hoop

De Hoop said he also looks forward to working with collaborators at Rice’s Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology on the challenges in computational seismology and inverse problems. He said the institute’s annual Oil and Gas High-Performance Computing Workshop, which has tripled its attendance over the past seven years, signifies the energy industry’s reliance on computational science and comprehensive, predictive models of Earth’s subsurface.

“Advances in acquisition technology, not just in the energy industry but also in global seismology, driven by the need for information and converging interests in academic and private sector applications, are producing fast-growing volumes of high-quality data,” de Hoop said.

“This wealth of data gives exciting new opportunities for learning. At the same time, the risk of data volume growth outpacing compute power and memory poses a formidable challenge for the extraction of increasingly subtle signals from ever-expanding data sets. That brings us to the fields of big data and machine learning. The future of computational seismology and inverse problems lies in using high-performance, very-large-scale computing to bring together the analytical and data sides of the field.”

De Hoop said he also plans to work with Rice’s Energy and Environment Initiative, a sweeping effort to draw experts from across the university to work closely with the energy industry to solve problems with transformative technologies.

“Accurate imaging and characterization of shallow- and deep-mantle structures will facilitate integrated geological and geophysical studies and lead to the further construction of comprehensive mathematical models of Earth’s dynamic interior,” he said. “These will also expand our insight into how processes at Earth’s surface, including large-scale landscape evolution and earthquakes, are connected to processes in the planet’s deep interior. The theoretical and computational techniques involved will be important to the seismic characterization of fracture systems and faults, subsurface reservoirs in energy exploration and production and for the development of a systematic approach for an ultimate common data model.”

De Hoop earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics and a master’s degree in theoretical physics from Utrecht University and a doctorate in technical sciences from Delft University of Technology. He worked as a research geophysicist at Shell and as a senior research scientist at Schlumberger Cambridge Research prior to beginning his academic career at the Colorado School of Mines in 1995. He received the Society of Exploration Geophysicists’ Clarence Karcher Award in 1996 and is a fellow of the Institute of Physics. He holds continuing visiting professorships in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at the Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. He is a member of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, the American Mathematical Society, the American Geophysical Union and the Society of Exploration Geophysicists.

The Simons Foundation’s Math+X Program encourages interactions between mathematics and other disciplines through matching grants to endow joint chairs between a mathematics department and a partner department. The grants include substantial operating funds to support activities shared between the two departments.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.