Geophysical Institute and aurora scientist help make wish come true

Release Date: 
Wednesday, January 22, 2003


Each year more than 20 kids head to Alaska through the Make a Wish Foundation, usually to take part in summer activities. But this year, things are operating a bit differently. Chelsea Hodges, a teenager from Virginia, is traveling across the continent to see the aurora in Alaska’s Interior during the heart of winter.

The Geophysical Institute (GI) and affiliated staff have been tapped to share their knowledge on the aurora and help make Hodges’s wish to witness the northern lights, a reality. Neal Brown, director of the Alaska Space Grant Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and adjunct faculty member of the GI, will meet with Hodges and her family before they view the aurora from Chena Hot Springs Resort next week. He will explain how the aurora is formed, and why the Fairbanks area is such a fine spot for viewing the dazzling lights. 

“It’s really great that we can help with something like this and give Chelsea a talk on the aurora,” Brown said. “I love to explain science to nonscientists. That’s my background and this is the best place in the world to come and find out about the aurora.”

Brown has a background in physics and continues to lend his scientific background to the education outreach activities at the GI.

Wish Manager Camille Oliver says the Make A Wish Foundation of Alaska has never coordinated a wish to see the aurora, but she’s optimistic about the Hodges’ coming trip. “With Chena Hot Springs and the Geophysical Institute being world renown regarding the aurora, we figured we could get the family up there to see the lights and learn about the science behind them,” Oliver said. “Even if there’s not any northern lights out, with all of the excitement that’s surrounding this, the family will love it.”

Chelsea Hodges is battling a rare neurodegenerative disorder, called Unverricht-Lundborg Syndrome. She lives in Richmond, Virginia and has never before visited Alaska. Her mother, father and sisters will accompany her on her trip north. The trip is sponsored by the Make a Wish Foundation of Alaska, Montana, Northern Idaho and Washington. Each year the nonprofit organization grants the wishes of children coping with a life-threatening illness to give them hope, strength and joy.

The Hodges family will spend two days at Chena Hot Springs and then return to Fairbanks where they will tour the Geophysical Institute and the University of Alaska Museum. A press conference is scheduled before these tours Thursday, Jan. 29 at 1:45 p.m. in the Globe Room at the GI, on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.

Neal Brown, director of the Alaska Space Grant Program and GI adjunct faculty member, (907) 479-2773.
Camille Oliver, wish manager for Make A Wish Foundation of Alaska, (907) 258-9476.
Amy Hartley, GI information officer, (907) 474-5823.