Gene Wescott, a professor emeritus of geophysics and long-time employee at the UAF Geophysical Institute, died in Hawaii on Feb. 23, 2014. Wescott had been with the GI since 1958.
Wescott conducted pioneering work on sprites — the mysterious optical flashes that occur above thunderstorms — in the mid-1990s with fellow GI researchers Davis Sentman and Daniel Osborne. The team captured sprites on video, providing conclusive evidence of the phenomena. Wescott also participated in activities related to two International Polar Years (1957-1958 and 2007-2009) during his time at the institute. He retired in 1997, but like many GI scientists, continued to work on projects and kept an office at the facility.
Wescott hitchhiked to Alaska from Boulder, Colo., in 1958, after writing to Geophysical Institute Director Christian T. Elvey about a position. He left for Alaska before getting a response. He landed a job in Denali National Park, but once the job ended, he began his career at the GI as a research assistant. He earned both his master’s degree and a doctorate from UAF, in 1960 and 1964 respectively.
“I came up to climb mountains, and I knew there was a geophysical institute there where I might get a summer job after climbing,” Wescott said in a 2007 interview.
With the exception of a three-year leave of absence at NASA and a sabbatical or two, Gene Wescott dedicated nearly 50 years to the GI and UAF research endeavors. Wescott was 82.
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PHOTO CAPTION/CREDIT: Professor Emeritus of Geophysics Gene Wescott (right) is pictured with his son, Brian, in Ireland in 2012. The two pose alongside an art-deco 1937 MG-VA Tickford Drophead Coupe that Gene restored. Wescott family photo used with permission.