Dr. Davis Daniel Sentman, 66, earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Iowa’s Department of Physics & Astronomy in 1971, 1973, and 1976, respectively. As part of his degrees, Sentman worked on the NASA/Ames Research Center spacecraft Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 program and studied under James Van Allen.
After leaving Iowa, Sentman joined the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at the University of California, Los Angeles. While there, he was primarily involved in investigations of plasma instabilities of the solar wind and the magnetosphere.
Sentman joined the Geophysical Institute and the Physics Department of the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1991 as a researcher and professor of physics. His research areas included work in the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, upward lightning phenomenon, mechanisms of propagation using an electromagnetic code and chemical reactions using an atmospheric chemistry code.
Most notably, Sentman was a pioneer for sprite research in the early 1990s. Working with fellow GI scientist Eugene Wescott, the two captured the short-lived electrical discharges that occur above thunderclouds on video in 1994. The phenomena became widely studied after that, but Sentman and Wescott discovered something big.
“The earth is a pretty picked-over place,” Sentman said in 1994. “Thousands of scientists have been crawling over it for years, and there’s not a whole lot left unstudied. Oddly enough, this escaped detection until now.”
During his time at UAF, Sentman received numerous awards, including the 2004 Graduate Student Advisor’s Award, 2001 Geophysical Institute Award, 1997 Emil Usibelli Distinguished Research Award and the 1995 Terris and Katrina Moore Prize.
Sentman was the principal investigator on more than 30 research projects with NASA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. He was a specialist in plasma physics, solar-terrestrial relationships and upper atmospheric electrical phenomena.
In his career, Sentman published 89 papers, including articles in Scientific American and Science, and he has 1,690 citations of his work. Sentman collaborated with 128 co-authors from 1974 to 2011 and that work is cited by 1,119 authors.
In 2011, Sentman was granted emeritus status at UAF.