UC Berkeley engineering professor emeritus Richard White dies at 90

Richard White
Richard "Dick" White

Caring father, friend, colleague, engineer and UC Berkeley professor emeritus Richard “Dick” White died Aug. 14 at the age of 90 in his home on Panoramic Hill. He will be remembered for his drive to help others through invention, his care for the world around him and his ingenuity.

Born and raised in Denver, Colorado, White fostered his appreciation for the environment through hiking, skiing, running and mountain climbing, according to his son Rollie White. His love for nature continued as he ran cross-country at Harvard University, where he earned his undergraduate, graduate and doctorate degrees.

“He was the kind of person that just really loved a problem to solve, you know, he liked to try to figure out how things worked,” Rollie White said. “He was always investigating new technologies and just always looking for a better way to do things.”

White conducted pivotal research in engineering and contributed to the creation of surface-acoustic-wave devices, microsensors, actuators and more. White met his research partner and longtime friend Richard Muller in 1962 when the two joined campus faculty, Muller said. They bonded over each having two sons and their shared interest in physics while on their sabbatical in Germany in 1968.

In 1986, White and Muller founded the Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center, which pioneered the field of microelectromechanical systems. The creation of the field was a factor in the fame of the campus electrical engineering and computer sciences department, according to Jeffrey Bokor, chair of the department.

Beyond his work, White sang with the UC Monks, a faculty-based choral group, from 1962 until about one year ago. According to Muller, who was also in the group, they worked with individuals in the campus music department to serenade people at the Faculty Club.

Among many other accolades for his work, White was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1994 and he and Muller won the 2013 IEEE/Royal Society of Edinburgh James Clerk Maxwell Medal.

Before the pandemic, White continued going to work about three to four times a week, Rollie White said. Dedicated to his community, White created a cache of fire safety equipment at Panoramic Hill that the city still uses and submitted a patent for a device he was working on that could detect COVID-19 in the air, Rollie White added.

White is survived by his sons, Brendan and Rollie White, who were inspired by their father’s passion for the environment to become biologists and work in the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Rollie White said the goal of his father’s inventions and patents was not to make money, but rather to create things that the world needs.

“His motivation was always just to make the world a better place, and I would say that’s true of his environmentalism … but also in his work,” Rollie White said. “That is a theme of his work through the years. He’s always trying to make the world a better place.”

Contact Dina Katgara at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dinakatgara.