Bob Hunsucker began experimenting with electricity as a boy — much to the chagrin of some unsuspecting friends who were subjected to his “lie detector” machine. The tinkering inspired his lifelong study of radio waves, which led to international prominence as an expert in their interaction with the ionosphere.
Hunsucker was hired in 1958 as a research associate at UAF’s Geophysical Institute, then located in the Chapman Building, where he studied high-latitude radio wave propagation. The institute’s most sophisticated tool for a time was an ionosonde, which sent powerful signals into the atmosphere every 15 minutes and recorded their reflected return.
“The ionosonde’s transmitter was so powerful, so close by, and so ‘dirty’ that the pulse sequences came in loud and clear on every radio and record player on campus,” wrote Neil Davis, a fellow Geophysical Institute employee, in his 1993 book “The College Hill Chronicles.” While some grew accustomed and even fond of the blast, they “also filled a few minds, typically those of liberal arts faculty members who loved music, with bitter thoughts.”
Hunsucker, in addition to studying radio waves, enjoyed playing with them as a ham radio operator. His license came in handy more than a few times.
“During 1960-1962 we lived about 15 miles out of town on a sporadically useful road, and during one ‘cold-snap’ (-60 F) we were stuck at home with no phone,” he wrote in 2002, “so I fired up the [ham radio] and we got instructions from a physician in Fairbanks how to take care of our sick child.”
Hunsucker and his family left Alaska while he earned a doctorate, but they returned in 1971, when he joined UAF’s faculty and taught physics and electrical engineering.
“His imaginative project acronyms and participation in ‘Fagoo’ holiday skits were legendary at the Geophysical Institute,” a colleague wrote after Hunsucker died in 2014.
Hunsucker retired in 1988 but continued conducting research and writing papers through the first decade of the new century.
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