Kenneth Gibbs | Passages


Born in Sacramento in 1955 and raised in California during the heyday of scientific possibilities, Kenneth Gibbs exhibited an early proclivity for science and, with his doctoral dissertation in the late 1980s, Gibbs developed a technique that permanently propelled the study and research of very high energy (VHE) gamma ray astronomy. Gibbs passed away on 23 June 2022 after a brief illness, at home surrounded by love.

Prior to Gibbs’ discovery, gamma-ray astronomy had not yet been recognized as a viable field of study, only as a subset of cosmic ray physics. He developed a noise reduction technique that significantly increased the ability to detect gamma rays and, by applying an imaging procedure to the atmospheric Cerenkov technique (a technique by which VHE gamma rays are observed), Gibbs confirmed that the Crab Nebula was an emitter of such rays, marking the first time an astrophysical object was confirmed to emit VHE gamma rays. This discovery firmly established gamma-ray astronomy as a field of study in its own right.

Subsequent to this discovery, Gibbs led or managed a number of gamma and cosmic ray experiments worldwide. From 1987 to 1993 Gibbs worked as a senior research associate for CASA (Chicago Air Shower Array) at the Enrico Fermi Institute of the University of Chicago, at that time host to the most sensitive experiment in existence for the study of gamma-ray and cosmic ray interactions. From 1995-2001, he was the senior research associate for the Auger Project in Argentina, an international effort that extended cosmic ray research further into the ultra-high energy (UHE) range. From 2001 to 2011, working for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, he was deputy project manager for VERITAS, which sought to increase the sensitivity of VHE gamma-ray astronomy ten-fold utilizing an array of large aperture imaging atmospheric Cherenkov telescopes located in southern Arizona. Finally, from 2014-2015 Gibbs worked for the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of British Columbia as project manager for the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), a novel radio telescope designed to explore the epoch when “dark-energy” came to dominate the expansion of the Universe.

As a child, Gibbs was a lover of books, and read widely and voraciously. After moving to Orcas Island, he volunteered weekly at the Orcas Island Library and was chair of Friends of the Library from 2017 to 2022. He also served on the Spring Point Homeowners Association for two terms. A lifelong learner, Gibbs was a HAM radio enthusiast, a sailor, a kayaker, an avid hiker, a bicyclist, and a Greek history buff who loved to travel.

Before retiring fully in 2019, Kenneth Gibbs joined his wife, Lynnette Wood, in establishing the consulting company Blue Madrona LLC, with its home on Orcas Island. As vice president for science and technology, Gibbs carried out a range of foreign aid projects in the Republic of Georgia and elsewhere.

Gibbs is survived by his wife Lynnette Wood, of Deer Harbor, WA; a twin brother, Kent Michael Gibbs of Fort Gibson, OK; and sisters-in-law Gayle Gibbs of Tampa, FL, and Denise Schuster and Carolyn Wood of Anacortes, WA.

A memorial to acknowledge this amazing human being who contributed so much to life and the world of science will be held from 5:30 – 6:30 on Thursday, 14 July, in the Community Room of the Orcas Island Public Library.