Renowned UH Benefactor, Geophysicist Robert E. Sheriff Dies

Robert E. Sheriff
Courtesy of the Robert Sheriff Collection
Robert E. Sheriff, professor emeritus in the University of Houston (UH) Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and long-time departmental benefactor, died Nov. 19 in Missouri City, Texas. He was 92.

Sheriff had an illustrious career both in industry and academia impacting the lives of many colleagues, students and the geophysics community worldwide. He was known as a mentor, teacher, friend, benefactor and role model.

Sheriff may be best known in the geophysics community for writing the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Applied Geophysics. What started out as a short booklet describing terms related to the rapidly growing geophysics industry grew to more than 400 pages. First published by the Society for Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) in 1973, it is in its 4th edition and is still the SEG’s best seller, with 7,500 copies sold in 2014.

“It has been translated into at least 75 languages, maybe more,” said Hua-wei Zhou, chair of the UH Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “It is the exploration geophysicist’s bible. People refer to it all the time.”

Sheriff authored several additional influential geophysical texts and developed the area of applied geophysics while at UH. He was recently profiled in the September issue of the oil industry trade magazine GEO ExPro on his long oil industry and academic career. Read the full article here.

After starting graduate school in physics at Ohio State University, Sheriff interrupted his education to work for The Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to develop America’s first nuclear weapon. It was there that he met his wife, Margaret. They married in 1945, and he returned to Ohio State to complete his Ph.D. in physics. Through the course of their marriage, they had six children – Anne, Rick, Jeanne, Susan, Barbara and Linda.

In 1950, Sheriff began working for Chevron in California, when geophysics research was in its infancy. Throughout the course of his career at Chevron, he traveled the world, supervising work in numerous locations and relocating his family to Trinidad and Australia.

Sheriff came to Houston in 1970 and began serving as an adjunct professor of geophysics at UH. After retiring from Chevron, he was the vice president of development at Seiscom-Delta. In 1980, he became a full tenured professor at UH. He retired in 2006.

“Bob is the reason why I joined UH,” said Zhou, who holds the Margaret S. Sheriff College Professorship in Geophysics. “I read his books while I was in graduate school. When I finally became a colleague of Bob’s, he was bigger than anyone I had known before. He was so unselfish, helping people any way he could.”

Over the years, Robert and Margaret Sheriff established four endowments at the University of Houston, giving nearly $2 million in support of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. The endowments are the Margaret S. Sheriff College Professorships in Geophysics, the Robert E. Sheriff College Professorship in Sequence Stratigraphy, the Robert and Margaret Sheriff Faculty Chair in Applied Seismology, and the Sheriff Endowment in Applied Geophysics.

The Sheriffs also set up a scholarship through the SEG for international graduate students coming to study geophysics at UH. More than 100 students have been funded through their generosity.

“Bob Sheriff was a huge figure, a guru in his field,” Zhou said. “He was much more than just a good and generous person. He was academically a giant.”

To make a gift in Sheriff’s memory, the family has requested contributions be made to the Robert and Margaret Sheriff Endowment in Applied Geophysics at UH.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m., December 13 at the Settegast-Kopf Co. at Sugar Creek, 15015 Southwest Freeway, Sugar Land, Texas. A reception will follow.


About the University of Houston
The University of Houston is a Carnegie-designated Tier One public research university recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the nation’s best colleges for undergraduate education. UH serves the globally competitive Houston and Gulf Coast Region by providing world-class faculty, experiential learning and strategic industry partnerships. Located in the nation’s fourth-largest city, UH serves more than 40,900 students in the most ethnically and culturally diverse region in the country. For more information about UH, visit the university’s newsroom.

About the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
The UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, with 193 ranked faculty and nearly 6,000 students, offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in the natural sciences, computational sciences and mathematics. Faculty members in the departments of biology and biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, earth and atmospheric sciences, mathematics and physics conduct internationally recognized research in collaboration with industry, Texas Medical Center institutions, NASA and others worldwide.

To receive UH science news via email, sign up for UH-SciNews.