The UC Berkeley experience is inherently different for all of us. For Bill French, class of 1966, it mainly revolved around academics, track and hanging out with his college sweetheart. “It was actually pretty boring,” he laughs in regards to his college experience. But as many alumni experienced, UC Berkeley opened up many doors for him careerwise. Fast-forwarding to the present, French has developed a self-spinning, solar-powered globe — an Earth that can spin in the palm of your hands. MOVA Globes are currently being sold internationally, and the invention is the recipient of multiple awards and recognition.
The Clog had a golden opportunity to have a chat with French, in which he reflected with insight on college life and divulged inspiring advice on success.
The Daily Californian: Tell us a little about MOVA Globe.
Bill French: It is essentially a solar-powered ball inside a transparent shell. The ball is both transparent enough for the solar panels within it to absorb light and, simultaneously, opaque enough for the panels to remain hidden from sight. It functions on the combination of concepts of magnetism and the almost friction-free relationship between the fluid and the ball. It is autonomous, like a living thing. And I find that magical.
DC: Tell us about the single most important event that occurred to you at Cal.
BF: It was the day I met Lisa Kosinski, the girl running around the track. She was interested in classical music, art and culture, so I had to amuse and impress her with claims of what magical, wonderful things I could do with physics. She was my first love, my muse, and she started me thinking in different ways. I have not heard from her in 35 years.
DC: What do you mean by she started you thinking in different ways?
BF: I realized that Lisa and her sophisticated Hollywood friends would never really be interested or impressed by any of the types of things that physicists normally do. Since I had zero talent for painting, sculpting or making music, I began to think of what I could do with physics that would impress her. She thought a solar-powered flying saucer would be cool, and so did I. I immediately began to imagine flying all over the desert in such things, together with Lisa. The MOVA Globe is what I have been trying to create since my time in Berkeley with Lisa, and I finally allowed myself to actually do it. It is also great that my wife, Peggy, and my kids, Forest and Sierra, also appreciate my work.
DC: Did Berkeley shape your current success in any way?
BF: Berkeley was essentially my ticket to a career in physics. It is a great school, and people understood how hard I had to work to graduate from it. It definitely opened a lot of doors for me.
DC: Any memorable classes that you took at Cal?
BF: In my senior year of college, I took a lab course, which I got an A on! The professor essentially told me at one point in my career, I would be doing all sorts of experiments and statistical analysis. And then I would find something I’m truly passionate about, and I would have to be willing to bet money on it. And I did. I bet on it … with my wife’s agreement, of course.
DC: What is the best part of your job?
BF: I’m doing exactly what I want to do right now. I’ve always wanted to create something autonomous. That is the most cool thing I can imagine. Fairly soon after I graduated, I started thinking about how to create a solar-powered globe. And at 71, I have invented it, and it is very gratifying. I get to travel to places like Asia, and people are buying it. It is amazing.
DC: Any advice for current undergraduates?
1. Take courses you find interesting and useful. Avoid courses that just drive you crazy learning things you know you will never actually use. These days, there are probably courses in entrepreneurship, business, just getting organized in what you do, focusing on where you want to go. When I finally graduated with my master’s, I looked up “physicist” in the want ads and saw nothing. I had no idea how to find work. These days, I would hope there are classes to prepare people for the entry into the real world.
2. Maybe some people will move directly from Cal into a great job at Google or such, but most will need to start at the ground floor of something less impressive. You get your foot in the door, you meet people, you do good things and opportunities will arise.
3. Hang in there. Pay your dues. Always keep looking for a better job, your dream job. Go for it!