Verner E. Suomi (1915-1995)


Professor Emeritus Verner Edward Suomi died peacefully Sunday afternoon, July 30, at University Hospital at the age of 79 after a long battle with heart disease. He was internationally recognized as the "father of weather satellite systems" and throughout his career made numerous important contributions to the fields of meteorology, space science and engineering.

Professor Suomi spent his entire career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison except for a year's service as Chief Scientist of the U.S. Weather Bureau in 1964. He joined the UW faculty in 1948, and was a much beloved teacher in the Departments of Meteorology and Soil Science and the Institute for Environmental Studies until his retirement from formal teaching in 1986. In 1965 Professor Suomi founded the UW-Madison's Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) and under his direction it became a world-renowned mecca for weather satellite research and development. Professor Suomi continued to be actively involved in research after his retirement from the SSEC directorship in 1988, designing instruments, directing field experiments, and advising scientists in atmospheric science projects until the week of his death. He also continued teaching a weekly undergraduate meteorology course in emeritus status.

Professor Suomi's influence on the international earth science and meteorology scientific community was immense. His special genius came from his unique ability to combine scientific insight with engineering efficiency. Professor Suomi is best known for his invention of the "spin-scan" camera which enabled weather satellites in geostationary orbits to image the earth continuously, yielding the weather satellite pictures now familiar to all TV-weather watchers around the world. He was also an inspirational force in planning interplanetary data-collecting missions to Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, leading to better understanding of their atmospheres.

Throughout his career, Professor Suomi served as chairman or on the directorates of numerous national and international scientific organizations and committees, in which he effectively promoted the application of space systems to improve weather services. He received many scientific honors, including the National Medal of Science awarded by the President of the United States in 1967, the Franklin Medal, the World Meteorological Organization's IMO Prize, and the first Walter Ahlstrom Prize, which included a $55,000 award that he donated to the U.W. Foundation for Research.

Professor Suomi is survived by his wife, Paula and his children Eric (Madison, WI), Stephen (Bethesda, MD), and Lois (Charles) Young and grandchildren Emily and Elaine Young (Houghton, MI), sisters Esther Zikmund (Hibbing, MN) and Edith Bachman (Denton, TX) and numerous nieces and nephews. His parents, John and Anna, predeceased him.

Interment will take place near the family home in southern Minnesota in a ceremony for immediate family. A memorial service will be held in Madison at Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Avenue, at a date to be soon determined.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the University of Wisconsin Foundation, Suomi Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 8860, Madison, WI 53708-8860. Please call 262-0544 for further information.


If you would like to comment on how Dr. Suomi's work has affected your life, please sent a note to terrig@ssec.wisc.edu.

Please be sure to sign your note. We're preparing a scrapbook for Mrs. Suomi and names will mean more than e-mail addresses.