Public Release: 

Endowments to bring new courses, foster research in geosciences at UH

Robert and Margaret Sheriff Back Professorships in Sequence Stratigraphy and Geophysics

University of Houston

HOUSTON, March 8, 2005 - Two endowments given to the University of Houston hold promise for new research and additional courses in fields that aid the energy exploration and production industry.

Professor Emeritus Robert E. Sheriff, long-time faculty member in UH's geosciences department, and Margaret S. Sheriff, his wife, recently endowed two college professorships - one in sequence stratigraphy and one in geophysics. The endowments will support two faculty members in the geosciences who are experts in these fields in UH's College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM).

"Thanks to the generosity of the Sheriffs, we will be able to fund more research and retain the high quality faculty members necessary to achieve true excellence in sequence stratigraphy and geophysics," said John F. Casey, chairman of the geosciences department. "These are two fields that are essential within Houston's energy exploration and production industry. These two professorships will contribute significantly in educational activities with a growing undergraduate and graduate student population interested in applied energy fields in geology and geophysics within the geosciences department."

Sequence stratigraphy is a branch of geology concerned with interpreting seismic data patterns to reveal the position, depth and location of rocks underneath the earth's surface. The way rocks are deposited beneath the earth suggests whether they are surrounded by gas, sediment (such as sand or clay) or fluid (such as oil or water). Scientists use this information to detect oil and gas beneath the earth's surface, which is important for practical applications in the chemical, utility and transportation industries.

Geophysicists study the earth's crust and interior using principles of math and physics. Geophysics includes branches of study such as oceanography, seismology (the study of earthquakes) and meteorology.

For more than 30 years, Sheriff has taught at UH and been a leader in the field of exploration seismology, the application of 3-D seismic data for exploration, development and production of oil and gas fields. Before joining UH, Sheriff worked for more than 25 years at Chevron Oil Company. After Chevron, he served as senior vice president for development of Seiscom Delta Corporation for five years. Beginning his UH career as an adjunct professor in 1973, he became a full-time faculty member in 1981.

Today, Sheriff is primarily involved with reservoir geophysics that deals with three-dimensional traps beneath the earth's surface, called reservoirs, that contain petroleum or crude oil reserves. Seismic methods attempt to image the subsurface of the earth and find these traps.

"I believe that seismic methods are grossly underused in reservoir engineering and that they can contribute much to oil and gas field development and production," Sheriff said.

The author of several geophysics textbooks, Sheriff wrote one of the first books on sequence stratigraphy, a field of geological study he assisted in developing and refining in the 1970s. He also is the recipient of dozens of industry and educational awards, including the Maurice Ewing Medal of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) for lifetime work in geophysics.

Margaret Sheriff is the chair of the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto (GSSJ) Council History Committee and has been active in Girl Scouts and Girl Guides in seven locations, three countries and five U.S. councils. Currently, she is an active volunteer for the GSSJ and recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the organization. In addition, she was honored with the prestigious Juliette Low Friendship Medal by the Girl Scouts of the USA national board of directors and will receive her 60-year pin next year.

The Sheriffs have previously supported UH through other university endowments in NSM. In 1999, they established two SEG Foundation Scholarships for foreign graduate students. These SEG scholarships are available annually to two foreign university graduates seeking master's or doctoral degrees in geophysics at UH, providing living expenses for the first year of graduate studies and the opportunity to show a student's abilities and potential. In addition, they previously endowed the Margaret S. and Robert E. Sheriff Chair in Applied Seismology in the Department of Geosciences in NSM to support geophysics research that uses seismic data for different applications, such as locating oil and gas or investigating foundations and structures for building dams and bridges.

An annual Sheriff Lecture series also has been established by the Houston Geological Society and the UH Geosciences Alumni Association. This lecture series highlights industry experts addressing hot topics in geosciences applications and research.

"The Sheriffs' commitment to education and outreach to young people is phenomenal," Casey said. "It's quite spectacular when you consider all they have contributed to education over the years and the wonderful efforts of Margaret's volunteer work with the Girl Scouts. I cannot think of better examples of a couple who have truly given so much back to the university, department and community. It has been an honor for us all in the geosciences department to work with and know both Bob and Margaret so well. We thank them for their overwhelming generosity."


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