University of Wyoming assistant professor dies in motorcycle crash

Gustavo Sbatella responds to a question during the research poster session at the Powell Research and Extension Center field day July 13.

Colleagues and friends at the University of Wyoming are reacting to the death Wednesday evening of a fellow scientist killed in a motorcycle accident in Nevada.

Gustavo Sbatella of Powell died in the crash near Valley of Fire State Park in southeastern Nevada, according to the Nevada Highway Patrol, which said heavy rain contributed to the crash.

Sbatella, 52, was an assistant professor in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and was based at the Powell Research and Extension Center.

“We lost an indispensable faculty member,” said Jim Heitholt, head of the department. “He had a savvy for conducting research in weed science, and we as his colleagues became better scientists because of him.”

The dean of the college echoed the sentiment.

“Gustavo was an accomplished scientist, a wonderful human being and a friend. We will miss him,” said Frank Galey.
Sbatella was the extension irrigated crop and weed specialist and conducted research in the Big Horn Basin.

“Gustavo provided crop producers in northwest Wyoming and beyond with answers to their weed control issues and other production challenges,” said Heitholt. “Our crop producers loved him as much as we did.”

Sbatella also taught courses and mentored graduate students. He cared deeply about his students and making sure they were successful, said Heitholt.

“Students who worked in his program or had taken his classes not only learned the basics of how weeds grew, but also the practical aspects of how to employ environmentally sound control measures,” he said.

Fellow weed scientist in the plant sciences department and collaborator Andrew Kniss recounted Sbatella’s relationships with students.

“So many times as Gustavo and I were eating dinner in towns across Wyoming, former students would come up to say hi,” recalled Kniss. “And he remembered every one of their names. Every single one — even if it was 10 years since he had them in class as a graduate teaching assistant. He truly cared about his students.”

Kniss said Sbatella was well respected by scientists and extension specialists across the western United States.
What will be missed most is his tell‑it‑like-it-is approach to communication, said Heitholt.

“He was extremely intelligent and did not use flowery, run-around language when describing how to solve a problem,” he said. “He made complicated topics simple.”

Sbatella, a native of Argentina, received his bachelor’s degree in agronomy at the Universidad de Nacional de Buenos Aires in 1990 and his master’s degree in 2004 and Ph.D. in 2006 in agronomy at UW. He was a postdoctoral research associate in Scottsbluff, Neb., with the University of Nebraska from 2007-11 and an assistant professor with Oregon State University, Madras, from 2011-14.

Sbatella joined UW in 2014.

“I treasured Gustavo’s friendship,” said Kniss. “I loved listening to his stories. He always had great stories. And he always had time for a friend. I am truly heartbroken.”