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Ojars J. Sovers (1937–2022)

Sovers performed radio interferometric measurements that provided the basis of a coordinate reference frame used for interplanetary spacecraft navigation and VLBI radio astronomy techniques.

Published onDec 31, 2022
Ojars J. Sovers (1937–2022)
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Siuslaw News | Ojars J. Sovers

Photo credit: Marquis Who’s Who.

Ojars J. Sovers, Ph.D., passed away peacefully at home in Florence, Oregon, on Friday November 11, 2022. He was 85.

Born on July 11, 1937, in Riga, Latvia, Ojars’ parents Karlis and Olga (Kaneps) Sovers brought Ojars to Germany during WWII in the fall of 1944 to escape the Soviet Russian advance. During the last months of the war in 1944 (in Europe, WWII ended in May 1945), while bombs were still falling on cities, his accountant father and elegant mother had to work at a farm in Bavaria for sustenance, where they helped milk cows and spread manure.

After Germany was divided into occupation zones — French, British, American and Russian — seven-year-old Ojars and his parents were in the American zone. Housing, food, and used clothing were provided by Americans. Many professionals from Latvia and other refugees set up schools in their respective languages. Ojars started in a Latvian school.

Five years passed before sponsors from the U.S. accepted many refugees. The family of three were sponsored by a farmer in Pennsylvania. After completing the contract of six months, they moved to Brooklyn, New York, where Ojars continued studying at Lincoln High School.

In 1954, he graduated with honors, became a citizen of the U.S. and started Brooklyn College, which he finished in 1958 with a major in physics and chemistry, magna cum laude. As a senior in 1958, he worked as a research assistant at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. He met his wife, Zinta Armande Aisters, in Brooklyn College and they married in 1959.

With the help of a National Science Foundation scholarship, he studied at Princeton University, earning a Ph.D. in 1962 with a thesis entitled, “d-Hybridization in Pi Bonds.” He then accepted postdoctoral appointments at the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory at Oxford University in England and then at Columbia University

In 1964 Ojars joined the technical staff of GTE Laboratories in Bayside, New York and worked there until 1972. He subsequently took a position with Sony Corporation in Tokyo, Japan, where he and his wife lived for several years.

Beginning in 1979, Ojars worked for NASA at the Caltech Research Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, where he held several scientific positions until his retirement in 2015. At JPL, he performed radio interferometric measurements to establish a coordinate reference frame for interplanetary spacecraft navigation. His work contributed to the success of the new generation of Mars probes that were being built by JPL, as well as the development of the Very Long Baseline Interferometry techniques used in modern radio astronomy.

Ojars also co-authored a book “Astrometry of Fundamental Catalogues[1] and numerous articles in professional journals. Among the latter was an oft-cited review paper on VLBI techniques [2] in Reviews of Modern Physics.

Ojars was a member of the AAS and established the Ojars J. Sovers Minigrant Program Fund. Each year, the Education Committee of the AAS invites proposals from U.S.-based AAS members to provide education-related mentoring and professional-development experiences for fellow members. Venues for such experiences include (but are not limited to) AAS and Division meetings, college and university campuses, museums, planetariums, observatories, and online webinars and hangouts. In 2019, Sovers was presented with the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award by Marquis Who's Who.

Ojars and his wife Zinta traveled together for 63 years. They frequently attended conferences in such places as Buenos Aires, Argentina, Bordeaux, France, New Mexico and elsewhere. Ojars leaves his grieving wife, her sister and her daughters with their families and many admiring friends.

Adapted and reproduced with permission from Siuslaw News. Additional material provided by Terry D. Oswalt.

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