daily californian logo


Physicist William Gilbert of Berkeley Lab dies at 95

article image


William Gilbert is remembered by his family and friends for his intellect, wit and lighthearted attitude.


We're an independent student-run newspaper, and need your support to maintain our coverage.

SEPTEMBER 21, 2022

William Spencer Gilbert, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and a UC Berkeley alumnus, died peacefully in his home on Aug. 26, as first reported by Berkeleyside.

At 95 years old, Gilbert was known for his intellect, wit and warm attitude, which he maintained even into his old age.

“Even toward the very end of his life, when he was talking so little, he would still come out with these one-line zingers that were incredibly apt,” said his daughter April Gilbert. “He was just very sharp, and he used his intellect both for understanding the world and for making light of things.”

As a physicist at Berkeley Lab, Gilbert worked on the creation and design of superconducting magnets, contributing to projects like the ESCAR Superconducting Magnet System.

His colleague, Bill Hassenzahl, whom he collaborated with for several years during the 1980s, remembered Gilbert for his composure in the laboratory.

“He was a lot calmer than I was,” Hassenzahl said. “People often respond to things with fast thinking, which sometimes we regret, but he never got to that stage. He was an easygoing and consistent person.”

Gilbert transferred to UC Berkeley for his undergraduate degree after his time in the Navy, and received his doctorate from the university as well, according to April Gilbert.

April Gilbert said that her father enjoyed discussing current events, and followed city politics closely. He was particularly active in public safety, taking an interest in preventing speeding vehicles within the community, Hassenzahl noted.

“He loved Berkeley, the university and the city,” April Gilbert said. “He just loved all of the science, the smart people he met and the weather, so he could be outdoors a lot while being stimulated on the intellectual front.”

According to April Gilbert, her father was a fitness buff who excelled in sprinting and had a biking group with his colleagues from Berkeley Lab. He played tennis for 50–60 years of his life and was a member of the Berkeley Tennis Club, she added.

After retiring from Berkeley Lab, Gilbert continued his studies through UC Berkeley’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, an organization for older adults who want to continue learning.

One of Gilbert’s classmates at the institute, Lucille Poskanzer, recalled that Gilbert was never the type to “toot his own horn.” She noted he never wore a shirt and tie to class but always had a plaid shirt on, as if he was always ready for an outdoor adventure.

“He was very affable,” Poskanzer said. “He didn’t have strong opinions, but you knew that he knew a lot. There was a lot of depth to him that he didn’t reveal until you started talking to him.”

Contact Olivia Branan at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @BrananOlivia.

SEPTEMBER 22, 2022