CEDAR email: Dr. Vincent Wickwar obituary

Astrid Maute maute at ucar.edu
Wed Oct 5 17:19:52 MDT 2022

 Vincent Beauchamp Wickwar, a longtime member of the Center for Atmospheric
and Space Sciences and Professor of Physics at Utah State University, died
on September 27, 2022 at his home in Logan, Utah. Dr. Wickwar was an early
pioneer in Aeronomy and Space Physics, which is a field devoted to the
scientific study of the physics and chemistry of the upper atmosphere of
the Earth and other planets. Dr. Wickwar moved to Logan in 1988 to join the
faculty of USU to take advantage of the low level of light pollution in
Northern Utah's Cache Valley. Here he would create a unique, laser- based
upper atmospheric observatory to study the complex conditions of the
Earth's atmosphere located at the edge of geospace above 100 km.

One of Dr. Wickwar's major contributions early in his career to the field
of aeronomy was to realize and encourage through both his leadership and
example the merits of collaborative investigations that could be
accomplished through the combination of both radar and optical measurements
to achieve a broader perspective on the atmospheric phenomena being
studied. At USU, Dr. Wickwar taught graduate courses in optics and aeronomy
while serving over many years as a thesis advisor for multiple graduate
students. He has been the principal investigator on numerous grants
involving studies of the upper atmosphere employing lidar (light detecting
and ranging) systems, photometers, Fabry-Perot interferometry, and
incoherent-scatter (IS) radar. From 1973 to 1988, Dr. Wickwar was employed
at SRI International in Menlo Park, California, where he was co-principal
investigator of the Sondrestrom, Greenland based IS radar and principal
investigator on numerous IS radar studies.

Dr. Wickwar's field of IS aeronomy was created in the wake of the US-USSR
nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963, with the US wanting to better understand
the possible effects of high altitude nuclear detonations on long-range
communications. By using the recently created IS radar systems, scientists
were able for the first time to observe the ionospheric physics associated
with high altitude detonations. The thinking at the time was that if the US
or others were to ever repeat the high altitude nuclear tests or, more
ominously, in the event of a nuclear war, an IS radar (with the capability
of measuring plasma densities, temperatures, and motions) would be a much
better diagnostic of the fundamental processes that produced the observed
effects on communications. Now, modern applications of these technologies
are employed to better understand global climate changes, among other
natural phenomena.

Dr. Wickwar was an expert in esoteric scientific innovations and
discoveries, but he was also thoroughly at ease with and enjoyed
interacting with non-science focused students while teaching two beloved
introduction to sciences courses for USU undergraduate students. Born in
New London, Connecticut, in 1943, Dr. Wickwar's early years were spent in
New York City, where his British-born father William Hardy Wickwar worked
at the United Nations and mother Margaret Wickwar as a social worker and
later a museum docent. Dr. Wickwar's formative years were spent in
Princeton, New Jersey, where as a young man he occasionally encountered
Albert Einstein, who was an early inspiration for Dr. Wickwar's lifetime
love of physics. Dr. Wickwar's father's work as an international civil
servant at one point took Dr. Wickwar to Lebanon, where he learned French
at the Jesuit School of Beirut. Upon returning to the US, he attended
Pomfret School in Connecticut, and later gained admission to Harvard
College's Class of 1965 where he majored in Physics. He received a PhD in
Space Physics at Rice University in 1971 under the mentorship of Dr.
William E. Gordon, who was one of the creators of the Arecibo IS radar in
Puerto Rico. Dr. Wickwar also performed postdoctoral research at Yale
University. Dr. Wickwar maintained that from an early age his parents
nurtured his many hobbies, including photography, which became a lifetime
passion. His interest in photography served as his early introduction to
optics, the underlying basis for the complex lidar and other optics-based
systems he employed in his academic and research studies.

At the time of his death, Dr. Wickwar was one of the principal
investigators in a large multi-university collaborative grant from the
Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA) to employ Dr. Wickwar's
lidar system to collect detailed density and temperature measurements from
the mesopause region - the junction between Earth's upper atmosphere and

Dr. Wickwar enjoyed wonderful collegial relations with many aeronomy
scientists around the world.  His passion and strong interest in aeronomy
and space physics research will be very much missed by friends and

Jan Sojka (Head of the USU Department of Physics)
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