Petroleum technology lecturer to discuss innovation at STEM lecture series

When it comes to searching for new sources of oil and gas, innovation is a source of inspiration.

Aftab Alam

That’s the message Aftab Alam, a University of Houston-Victoria adjunct lecturer in petroleum technology, intends to share during his presentation as part of the next UHV Science, Technology, Engineering and Math lecture.

His presentation, “Seeing the Invisible: New Technology to Find Oil and Gas,” will begin at 4 p.m. April 6 in the Alcorn Auditorium inside UHV University West, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. The lecture is free and open to the public.

“I want to show people how industries can make a difference through innovation,” Alam said. “A specific technology can be narrow for an audience of diverse interests. I have designed this presentation by including my life story, poetry and enterprise so it can be of interest to people in multiple disciplines.”

The process of locating oil and gas deposits underground involves the use of sound waves that are projected into the ground and converted into three-dimensional images of the rock layers under the surface. Specialists analyze the images to see what areas are likely to hold fossil fuel deposits.

There is no more easy oil to be found with old methods, Alam said. New methods must unravel interfering images and use artificial intelligence to find the target from only a small piece of uncertain information.

“The process can be similar to looking at a tackle during a football game,” Alam said. “There’s a huge pile of players, and the referee can only see a portion of each person, but he has to figure out who each player is and who has the ball just by looking at what can be seen from outside that pile.”

In addition to the scientific uses for this technology, Alam sees parallels in creative activities such as art and literature. As part of his presentation, he plans to show a picture reminiscent of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” which contemplates the possibilities of taking a lesser traveled road rather than the expected route.

That poem reflects his own feelings of uncertainty and risk taking when he first chose to pursue a career in petroleum technology, Alam said. When he was growing up in Pakistan, his friends chose to pursue secure jobs in civil service. He wanted to see and explore the world and took a risk that eventually led to a scholarship and international internship with Shell.

Jeffrey Di Leo

“Because I was willing to take a risk and was confident in myself, I was able to pursue a different course,” Alam said. “That ability to take risks and look for something different is an important part of finding success in petrochemical technology.”

Alam’s presentation is the fourth STEM lecture of the spring semester. Previous speakers were Brazilian math professor Cleon Barrosos; Folefac Atem, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston; and Brad Button, a UHV assistant professor of physics.

The next STEM Lecture Series event is scheduled for April 11. Ernst-Ludwig Florin, an associate professor of physics at the University of Texas at Austin, will deliver a presentation titled, “Why it is Fun to be a Biophysicist.”

“The STEM Lecture Series has offered UHV and Victoria an interesting look at many different careers and topics,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. “I’m looking forward to seeing Aftab Alam’s presentation and learning more about petrochemical technology.”

For more information about the series, contact Button at 361-570-4219 or

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.