SSEC instrument evolution: Past, present, future

SSCC, McIDAS, HSP, VAS, HIS, WIYN. These and many other instruments — their development, their scientific significance, and their intricate relationships to one another — are described in a video oral history covering the half-century of hardware programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC).

Taking a chronological walk through the instrumentation of SSEC’s past — and into its future — SSEC executive director for technology Fred Best moderated an oral history panel in conjunction with SSEC’s 50th anniversary. The innovative ground-based and space-based programs described in the video first took shape under the leadership of SSEC founder Verner Suomi and continue today under the leadership of director Hank Revercomb.

“The focus of this [oral history] will be how we got into our hardware projects, how we conducted them, and what kinds of interesting problems we ran into along the way,” explained Best.

Oral histories have long been recognized for their unique historical value, as a way to capture — in audio or video format — interpretations, perspectives, and stories of the interviewees. Moreover, documenting these personal accounts deepens institutional memory, offering today’s insight into past events. The stories and reflections are commonly used by scholars undertaking biographical or historical research, but they can also be effectively used for modern purposes geared toward the public eye, such as exhibits, commemorative materials, documentaries, or public relations campaigns.

Instrument Development at the Space Science and Engineering Center was recorded at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery on September 10, 2015. In addition to Best, the panel included Hank Revercomb, retired engineers Evan Richards and Kenneth Walker, and honorary fellow Anthony Wendricks.

The video and its transcript will become part of the Schwerdtfeger Library digital collections.