Sitting on a stool in tattered painter’s pants, hiking boots and a green t-shirt, Dr. Jason Gobat looks better suited for an afternoon hike than an Arctic expedition. His blue eyes look larger than life as he peers through the magnification goggles in front of him and down through the smoky plume coming from his solder iron. The salt and pepper stubble on his face serves as a reminder of the days he spent getting everything ready for the project that lays ahead. He snips, cuts and solders his way through the tiny circuit board, trying to get it to work again. Finally. It’s fixed. The $5 electronic kitchen timer he bought springs back to life.
When asked why not just use a watch, or a cell phone? Gobat responds, “This is louder.”
For someone about to toss $750k worth of equipment into the Arctic Ocean, laboring over a cheap kitchen timer may seem petty, but for Gobat, it punctuates the engineering genius and work ethic he’s become known for in the scientific community. For the past 17 years, Gobat has played a critical role in the development of a key research technology, and that expertise landed him a spot on an Arctic expedition to support the Office of Naval Research.
When he began working in 2001 at the Applied Physics Lab at the University of Washington, Seattle, Gobat was introduced to a prototype device under development at the university. Originally created by Dr. Charles Ericksen, Gobat eventually took over the project and has been developing it ever since. The torpedo-looking device is known as a Seaglider™, and it’s unique, low-energy design means it can spend up to a year in the water gathering scientific data and transmitting it back to scientists at the lab.