Physicist William Gilbert of Berkeley Lab dies at 96

Mug Bill Gilbert

Eric Rorer/Courtesy

William Gilbert will be remembered by his family and friends for his intellect, wit and lighthearted manner.

William Spencer Gilbert, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and a graduate of UC Berkeley, died peacefully at his home on Aug. 26, Berkeleyside first reported.

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

“Even towards the end of his life, when he spoke so little, he still came out with these one-line zingers that were incredibly apt,” said his daughter, April Gilbert. “He was just very perceptive and used his intellect to understand the world and take things lightly.”

As a physicist at the Berkeley Lab, Gilbert worked on the development and design of superconducting magnets and contributed to projects such as the ESCAR system using superconducting magnets.

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

“He was much calmer than me,” said Hassenzahl. “People often react to things with quick thinking, which we sometimes regret, but he never got that far. He was an easy-going and consistent person.”

Gilbert transferred to UC Berkeley for his bachelor’s degree after his time in the Navy and also received his doctorate from the university, 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 and was interested in preventing speeding vehicles within the community, Hassenzahl noted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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