Rice alumnus receives Edith and Peter O'Donnell Award in Technology Innovation

Chengbo Li '11 recognized for his work in CSI technology and development of core algorithms and software infrastructure.

Chengbo Li

Chengbo Li, who earned his Ph.D. in computational and applied mathematics (CAAM) from Rice University in 2011, has received the 2023 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Technology Innovation from the Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering, Science and Technology (TAMEST).

Li was recognized for his work in compressive seismic imaging (CSI) technology and development of core algorithms and software infrastructure. Since 2011, Li has worked as a research geophysicist at ConocoPhillips in Houston.

At Rice, Li’s doctoral adviser was Yin Zhang, professor of CAAM, now retired. Li developed algorithms for solving a class of compressive sensing problems with total variation regularization. His research at Rice served as the foundation for Li’s CSI innovations at ConocoPhillips.

Li works in the field of exploration seismology in the oil and gas industry, in which seismic surveys of the earth create a comprehensive model of subterranean structures not visible from the surface. Large surveys require thousands of receivers creating seismic waves for each shot and take thousands of shots in a grid pattern to create the seismic data.

“Chengbo’s research at Rice was motivated by the need for efficient solvers capable of restoring images captured by the single-pixel camera developed in Rice’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, to a high quality,” said Matthias Heinkenschloss, Noah Harding Chair and Professor of Computational Applied Mathematics and Operations Research (successor to CAAM).

Li is credited with finding a way to lessen the labor and environmental footprint of the seismic acquisition process. Instead of working in a regular grid, CSI sets the sensors and shots in a non-uniform but optimal way and utilizes mathematical optimization to reconstruct the wavefield using fewer data points than conventional methods. Doing so reduces the equipment and time required to complete the seismic survey, and minimizes the environmental impact.

Since 2015, ConocoPhillips has used its CSI technology on some 30 seismic surveys, with an estimated savings of more than $250 million.

“This is an excellent example of the fundamental concepts of computational and applied mathematics that have a lasting impact on various application areas,” Heinkenschloss said.

Li formally received the award at the TAMEST 2023 Annual Conference held May 23-25 in Houston.