In Memoriam 2021

We have learned of the deaths of the following members of the College of Chemistry community. Listed below are their names, UC Berkeley degree(s), and information about their academic and work history if known. We have also provided a link to an online obituary when available.

David Shirley, Professor of Chemistry and Berkeley Lab Director

David Shirley

(3/29/21) David Arthur Shirley, former director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, died on March 29, 2021, of age-related illness. Shirley was a pioneer of electron spectroscopy, a teacher, a mentor, and an extraordinary scientific leader with broad vision, who spearheaded the creation of the Advanced Light Source at Berkeley Lab and helped motivate the construction of third-generation synchrotron radiation facilities in the U.S. and around the world.  

Shirley became a lecturer in chemistry at UC Berkeley in 1959 and rapidly rose through the academic ranks to become chairman of the chemistry department in 1968. He was a National Science Foundation fellow at Oxford University in 1966-67, was awarded the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission’s Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award in 1972, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1978, and received an honorary degree from the Free University of Berlin in 1987. His early research was on low-temperature physics, nuclear orientation, and hyperfine interactions, particularly the Mössbauer effect. Later, he helped pioneer X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, work that grew into strong research programs in atomic, molecular, and solid-state spectroscopy, first using Lab-based sources and then using synchrotron radiation at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource. Read the obituary here.

Michael Charles Williams, Professor of Chemical Engineering

Michael Willaims

(1/02/2021)  Michael Williams was the first long-term faculty hire for the department in the area of polymers becoming an assistant professor in 1965. He received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the University of Wisconsin, working with Robert Bird, senior author of the path-breaking Transport Phenomena book, on modeling polymer flow. Williams became interested in the molecular underpinnings of polymer rheology. He spent a post-doctoral year studying polymer chemistry with Marshall Fixman at the University of Oregon’s Institute for Theoretical Science.

At Berkeley, he worked on both continuum and molecular models for polymer rheology, mechanisms of drag reduction by polymers, and enhancement of pool boiling with polymeric additives(link is external). Later on he started research on blood damage in shear flow at non-physiologic surfaces, as in extracorporeal assist devices.  He was also an exceptional teacher and mentor and received the campus Distinguished Teaching Award(link is external) in 1988. Read the full obituary here.

Roger Hildebrandt (B.A. '47, Chem; Ph.D. '51, Phys) physicist and Manhattan Project veteran

Rodger Hildebrand

(1/21/2021) Born Berkeley, Ca. Roger Hildebrand was an American physicist and Manhattan Project veteran. He was the S.K. Allison Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus, at the University of Chicago and was affiliated with the Enrico Fermi Institute.

Hildebrand was born on May 1, 1922 in Berkeley, California to Joel and Emily Hildebrand. His father was a distinguished chemist at the University of California, Berkeley. Following in his father and older brothers’ footsteps, he was studying chemistry at Berkeley when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Five days later, Ernest Lawrence approached Hildebrand, who had just finished his final exams. He asked the undergraduate, “Do you want to help the war effort?” and proceeded to spend the next hour teaching him how to operate a cyclotron. Throughout the war, Hildebrand worked on the Crocker cyclotron and the mass spectrometer, separating uranium isotopes. He was responsible for making the first samples of neptunium and plutonium. Hildebrand was also sent to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to train workers on how to operate the mass spectrometers at the Y-12 plant. Read about Rodger here.

Bridgette Barry (Ph.D. '84; Chem) Professor of biophysics and biochemistry

Professor Bridget Barry

(1/20/2021) Bridgette A. Barry was a renowned scientist who worked in the areas of Biochemistry and Biophysics and was a Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the Georgia Institute of Technology up until her death. She had an A.B. in Chemistry from Oberlin College and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley, where she met her husband.

After obtaining her Ph.D., she did post-doctoral training at Michigan State University before starting as an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota. Professor Barry received tenure and advanced to full Professorship at the University of Minnesota before moving to Georgia Tech.

Prof. Barry was director of Georgia Tech’s Molecular Biophysics Training Program, and of the Barry Group Laboratory. Her research focused on how the dynamic and responsive protein matrix facilitates biological catalysis. The research involved a wide range of high resolution spectroscopic, biochemical, and structural techniques to describe the reaction coordinate, which was used to reveal the motion of proteins in space and time. Read about Professor Barry's life and career here.

William Cox (Ph.D. '60; ChemE) Professor and dean

William Cox

(12/17/20) Born Manhattan, Kansas.  William's childhood was spent in St. Louis, Washington DC, Ness City (Kansas), and Torrance (California).  He received a B.E. degree from the University of Southern California in 1956 and his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1960, both in Chemical Engineering.  After working for TRW Semiconductors and the Aerospace Corporation for eight years, He returned to USC in 1968 as a professor of chemical engineering and materials science.

He joined Clarkson University in 1975 as chair of its outstanding chemical engineering department. Ten years later, he led the effort to organize a materials research center. In 1987, this center became a New York State Center for Advanced Technology, known as the Center for Advanced Materials Processing headed by Wilcox.

In 1987, Wilcox was also appointed dean of engineering, a post he held for ten years. During that time, he oversaw the development of a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering. Doctoral programs were also created for civil engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering.

In 1974 he began a 30-year association with NASA’s microgravity materials research program. This included both ground-based research and experiments in Skylab, the Space Shuttle, and sounding rockets, as well as two sets of experiments performed by Wilcox himself on the notorious “vomit comet” low-gravity aircraft. Read more about his life and work here.

Victor Algirdas Snieckus (M.S. ’61 Chem) Professor of chemistry

Victor Algirdas Snieckus

(12/18/20) Born in Kaunas, Lithuania. Victor spent most of his childhood in Germany before immigrating to Alberta Canada with his family in 1948. After high school, Victor went to the University of Alberta where he earned a B.S in chemistry. He then continued his education at UC Berkeley where he earned a M.S in chemistry. Victor then earned a Ph.D. in chemistry and had a postdoctoral position at the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa. In 1967 he joined the University of Waterloo as an assistant professor. After 12 years he became a Professor of chemistry.

In 1992, Victor became the Research chair at Monsanto/NCR Industrial. After 6 years he left Monsanto to Queens University as the Badger Chair of Chemistry. Throughout his long career within the field of chemistry, Victor made fundamental contributions to organo-lithium chemistry. He was also known for the DOM reactions that he and his group pioneered. In addition to these contributions, Victor’s research and collaboration with various pharmaceutical companies led to the anti-inflammatory drug CelebrexTM and to SilthiofamTM. Victor was not only enthusiastic about new discoveries and research but making an impact on student’s lives. Read more about Dr. Snieckus here.