Stanley Berger, co-founder of bioengineering department, dies at 79

Stanley Berger, co-founder of the bioengineering department at UC Berkeley and Montford G. Cook professor emeritus of mechanical engineering and bioengineering, died of pneumonia at his home Nov. 25. He was 79.

Berger, known as “Stan” by friends and family, was at once old-fashioned and revolutionary, said David Katz, one of Berger’s doctoral students and a current professor of biomedical engineering and gynecology at Duke University. Berger is well known for his work in blood flow, specifically for his research on the progression of arterial and atherosclerotic diseases with the UCSF School of Medicine.

During his 50 years as a member of the UC Berkeley faculty, Berger was among the first to think about applying the principles of fluid dynamics to biology, specifically medicine. According to Katz, Berger’s original biological work was cardiovascular and focused on sickle cell anemia.

“He was very much a scholar,” Katz said.

Born to European immigrants in Brooklyn in 1934, Berger earned his doctorate from Brown University in applied mathematics and went on to become a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University. In 1961, he moved to California to become an assistant professor at UC Berkeley.

Katz said Berger was known for having a conservative temperament and a progressive way of thinking that manifested in his interaction with young students.

“Stan was a bit intrigued by me,” said Katz, who was at UC Berkeley in the late 1960s during the height of the Free Speech Movement and student activism. “I had long hair, I did drugs but I got good grades. He wasn’t radical, but Stan was sympathetic to the concerns of the students.”

Another of Berger’s doctoral students, Jenn Rossmann, now an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Lafayette University, remembers the subtle way Berger encouraged her as a woman in science during a time when technological fields were competitive and exclusive.

“He had a poster on his door which read, ‘I want to be an engineer like my mom,’ ” Rossmann said. “He never spoke about it, but he was someone who made academia a friendlier place.”

UC Berkeley mechanical engineering professor Philip Marcus recalled Berger as a leader.

“There’s a word in Yiddish called mensch,” Marcus said. “It means a person of integrity and honor. The real meaning is a little more than that, but if I had to describe Stan, I would say that’s what he was — a mensch.”

Berger is survived by his wife, Beth Fain; his daughters, Shoshana and Maya; and his two grandchildren, Cleo and Judah Saxe.

Contact Savannah Luschei at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @savluschei.