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Guiller Pena

on 7 March 2013

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The Female Latina Mathematician
Ruth Gonzalez
Presented by:
Guiller and Mario Ruth Gonzalez was born in Teneriffe and after drama studies, completed her vocal training in Madrid. She made her début as a singer in the zarzuela Doña Francisquita by Amadeo Vives, followed by various zarzuela appearances. In 2006 she appeared as Adele in Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus in Bilbao and in 2008 made her début at the Costa Rica National Theatre as the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte. At the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, the Teatro Real in Madrid and the Maestranza in Seville she sang Trujamán in de Falla’s El retablo de Maese Pedro.

When Ruth Gonzalez received her Ph.D. in applied mathematics in 1986 from Rice University, she became the first U.S.-born Hispanic woman to earn a doctorate in mathematics. Her thesis in computational mathematics, written under the supervision of Mary Wheeler, was entitled "Domain Decomposition for Two-Dimensional Elliptic Operators on Vector and Parallel Machines" [Abstract, Full Version]. Gonzalez enjoys encouraging other minority women and girls to explore careers in math and science. She said in an interview in a 1998 Exxon publication that "if they can just see how much science affects them every day, these kids begin to understand its relevance in their lives and learn that math can be fun, not just some horrible subject the have to suffer through." Gonzalez has also served as a adult-literacy tutor at a program she supports at Rice University. Gonzalez, both of whose parents came from Mexico, was raised in Houston, Texas. Her interest in math and science developed throughout her elementary and high school education. Gonzalez completed her bachelor's degree in mathematics at the University of Texas in 1976, then did research at the Applied Research Laboratories at the University of Texas from 1976 to 1980. Her work involved developing mathematical models for wave propagation problems in underwater acoustics. These could be used, for example, to position submarines to avoid detection. Meanwhile she also earned her master's degree in mathematics at Texas. In 1980 Gonzalez joined the Exxon Production Research Company. She completed her graduate work at Rice while working full-time as a geophysical mathematician at Exxon (now ExxonMobil). Her work at Exxon focused on the development of seismic imaging tools for exploring oil and gas reservoirs. In the 1990's she headed a team of researchers who developed technology to turn seismic data into three-dimensional views of rock formations deep inside the earth, thus helping other specialists to decide where to drill for oil and gas. She has also served as an advisor in the Geophysical Processing Department at ExxonMobil and is currently an advisor for the Project Facilitation Team of the ExxonMobil Exploration Company Ruth Gonzalez is an expert in seismic imaging methods. Working with seismic data collected on the surface of the earth, she develops algorithms that perform calculations to produce images of the underlying geology. Since 1980, she has applied this technology to help discover oil and gas reservoirs for Exxon. "We use sound energy to help us determine exactly what the earth looks like beneath its surface, much like doctors use ultrasounds to take a peek at an unborn child, or x-rays of your body to help in diagnosing medical problems," she explains of the seismic process. "Our wave equations describe how waves propagate through different materials such as rocks, water, and air. This means that mathematics allows us to see several miles into the earth without invasive processes." Gonzalez is currently developing new methods that take into account the irregular distribution of surface seismic data. This will honor both the kinematics and amplitude information of the recorded seismic waves. "Current theories are true for uniform distribution of surface data," she explains, "but we are rarely able to collect such data in the real world." Ruth Gonzalez
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