Robert Matthew Winglee

May 10, 1958December 24, 2020

Professor Robert Matthew Winglee, Ph.D., was a beloved husband, father, and teacher. As a professor in Earth and Space Sciences (ESS) at the University of Washington, his passion was teaching students and doing research in space plasmas, engineering, and space environments of planets. He was loved by his students for his attitude of always supporting them if they had an idea and a plan. This has led to many innovative concepts that continue to be spread throughout the space industry by his students.

His research efforts were featured on the Discovery Channel "Science of Star Wars" 2005 and Mars Rising 2007. He was a Fellow of NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts. He served as Chair of ESS from 2005-2015, and was the recipient of the 2001 DISCOVER Magazine Awards for Technological Innovation, and the 2014 UW Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year. He accomplished his dream of going into space when he launched a student-built and designed miniature satellite (CubeSat), which successfully transmitted data from orbit.

One of his proudest recent achievements was founding the Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline (NESSP) in order to bring STEM to underrepresented and minority students. Through his Directorships of Washington NASA Space Grant and NESSP, he has touched the lives of many middle and high school students throughout the country. When students saw him coming they would yell out, "Here comes the rocket man!"

Robert was born in Sydney, Australia to Cecil and Cecilia Winglee in 1958, and graduated from the University of Sydney in 1985 with a Ph.D. in Physics. He loved traveling, hiking, gardening, kayaking, photography, and building wooden sailing ships. Most of all he loved spending time with his wife and children. He is survived by his wife of 40 years Jennifer (Jenny), his beloved children Kathryn and Matthew, his brother Peter, and his two cats. He was preceded in death by his father Cecil, mother Cecilia, and brother Raymond.

In our hearts we will be together always and forever.

Fond memories and expressions of sympathy may be shared at for the Winglee family. As part of his commitment to education, Robert and his wife established the Robert and Jenny Winglee Endowed Graduate Support Fund to provide financial assistance to graduate students in Earth and Space Sciences. In lieu of flowers, please donate to that fund: (second link listed).


  • Funeral Service

    Thursday, December 31, 2020


Robert Matthew Winglee

have a memory or condolence to add?

Hannah Hickey

January 16, 2021

Over the last few years, I've had the chance to share some of Robert's more newsworthy projects with the media. The last time I saw him was in July 2019, when he was on stage in a NASA outfit, addressing hundreds of kids who had built robots to compete in an event marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. His youthful energy matched that of the kids who had traveled to the UW campus, many for the first time, to participate in the event.

My interactions with Robert were brief since he always seemed to be juggling several logistically challenging projects. But his joy in doing science and his commitment to inspiring young people were always evident. It was a pleasure to know him; he'll be missed.

Eric Steig

January 15, 2021

As recently-appointed Chair of the department of Earth and Space sciences, I find Robert's passing to have a particular poignancy. He was Chair for much of the first part of my career at UW.

Robert would sometimes Wing It when making decisions, which could lead to conflicts with those in higher positions of authority, but he always had at heart the well-being of the faculty and students he led. No small part of the continuing success of our department is owed to him.

He treated me with kindness and support. He was especially kind to Juliet and me as struggled with our dual-career family in two different cities. He was also the first person in the department to invite us over to dinner and welcome us into his home. I find that I miss him more and as he days go by. I regret that I have no photo to share that has both of us in it. Perhaps someone can find one. Do let me know, if you do.

Lisa Graumlich

January 15, 2021

Robert was a tremendous scientist, teacher, and advocate. During his long tenure as chair, Robert led the department through turbulent and critical times, starting with the negotiations for incorporating the Department of Earth and Space Sciences into the new College of the Environment, through keeping the department vital through the great recession.

I will most remember Robert as a champion for diversity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). He was one of the nation's leaders in finding ways to engage underrepresented groups, especially rural students in the Northwest, who often don't have access to science and space science located in larger cities. Robert was tireless in this effort, traveling extensively to build relationships and garner resources for his many students. The scope of his impact was tremendous.

He also brought a diverse group of students into his lab group, and understood deeply that mentorship means taking care of the whole person. His students felt supported by him, not just in terms of access to exciting opportunities in science, but also to what it takes to be a professional in the field.

Robert touched so many lives; I feel great sadness that his contributions were cut short. I also know that his students and everyone he encountered will carry on his work to make space physics—and science more broadly—an exciting, diverse and inclusive field of work.

My thoughts are with his family, students, mentees, and friends. May his memory be a blessing.

Janice DeCosmo

January 12, 2021

Robert was a dear friend most of all, as well as a treasured colleague and a mentor to me. He helped me out at a couple of key moments in my career, and supported me when personal tragedy hit when my mother died. We shared an office for almost five years, and I will never forget hearing his wonderful Australian accent, laughter, gentle ribbing of students and colleagues, and the joy he expressed every day at a new scientific discovery, no matter how small. He had endless enthusiasm for his students' ideas and plans, and always considered others' needs and interests before his own in making important decisions, particularly when he was department chair. His devotion to his family was evident in all he did, and I know they must be missing him terribly now. Hugs and much love to Jenny, Kathryn, and Matthew. I feel incredibly lucky and honored to have counted Robert a friend and mentor.

Kristine Washburn

January 11, 2021

In his research and work Robert was like a big crazy kid with government sponsorship. As Space Grant Director he did a phenomenal job of building relationships with and directing resources to northwest tribes and other under-served communities. He was good at finding hard working people with good hearts and empowering them to uplift their communities through STEM.

Because of Robert I now use high power rockets and high altitude balloons to pull students deeper into STEM. Because of Robert I am getting a team of women engineering students to build a lava tube rover. Because of Robert I started a bridge program for first generation college students and every year I help change about 20 people's lives by getting them on a path to success in college and career. Robert's impact on people's lives will continue to spread good for many years to come.

I’m sad we won’t get to see him blow up part of Europa or crash more rockets. But space is a lot closer to us because of him.

Kirsten Ma

January 10, 2021

I met Dr. Winglee when I was on an SLI rocketry team in high school. We had dinner with "Hoot" Gibson during NARcon on the UW campus, sharing stories and our passion for rocketry, and what I remember most was Dr. Winglee's enthusiasm for life. We ran into each other again a few times over the years at various rocketry events, and each time, his excitement and happiness for life was contagious. He will be missed.

Katherine Reilly

January 8, 2021

On behalf of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, we send our deepest condolences to the Winglee family. Rob was a brilliant researcher and will be deeply missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.

Richard Clapp

January 7, 2021

A new Light in the sky.

Kiyomi Taguchi

January 4, 2021

I met Robert at the UW while making a short video about an event he had helped organize - a robotics event for kids from across the state that celebrated the Apollo moon landing. I was so impressed by the idea that he had set up this 'pipeline' to help get kids into robotics that might not otherwise have the opportunity. As a videographer, I was also impressed by his friendliness and charisma, surely part of what helped these efforts be successful!
He is part of the short video I put together - it lives in this post by my colleague Hannah Hickey who covered the event for UW News. I thought I'd share it in case you'd like a glimpse of a great thing he got off the ground, and a bit of Robert himself.

Robert's family and loved ones, my sincere condolences.
Kiyomi Taguchi

Susan Atkinson

January 3, 2021

Robert and my cousin, Jenny, fell in love over 44 years ago. Even though his career took them to the US many decades past, we kept updated of his achievements and their life in America during visits and regular contact.
Robert had an enthusiastic, brilliant mind, a great passion for his teaching and a remarkable life within the space and rocket fields; but it was his humbleness, sharing and unassuming disposition that were some of his greatest strengths.
We were very fortunate to spend time with Jenny and Robert in Seattle in 2018, seeing their favourite places and some of Robert’s world. Being able to sit down, share many meals, talk and relax with Robert, to really see his gentleness and the absolute love both Jenny and Robert still have for each other and their children was a real privilege.
Our heart goes out to Jenny, Kathryn and Matthew. Robert will always be loved and missed.