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100 Years of Scholarship

September 18, 2009
photo of a man in a laboratory

Berkeley’s intellectual might grows from academic family trees

From breakthrough research initiatives and indelible teachings have come the people who, for more than a century, not only conceived leading-edge ideas and transformed them into practical achievements, but inculcated into their colleagues and academic heirs unwavering Berkeley standards to uphold and improve upon. As part of California magazine’s centennial celebration, we’ve been asking faculty and department heads to nominate their choices for a perch in Berkeley’s academic family tree.


Melvin Calvin (1911–1997)

Named “Mr. Photosynthesis” by Time magazine in 1961, Calvin received a Nobel Prize for using radioactive carbon-14 to show how plants turn carbon dioxide and water into sugar during photosynthesis. Today this process is known as the “Calvin Cycle.” Plant biologist Todd Dawson says about him:

“His discovery, done in collaboration with Andrew Benson, also set the stage for research on solar power and renewable plant-based energy sources.”


Joseph Grinnell (1877–1939)

The naturalist coined the term “ecological niche” in 1924 to describe species’ positions in an ecosystem. He compiled an extraordinarily detailed record of the distribution and natural history of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians—a baseline now being used by the Grinnell Resurvey Project to understand changes in distribution over time. He was the first director of Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

Molecular and Cell Biology

Esmond Snell (1914–2003)

Thanks to Snell, many fewer babies are born with neural tube defects such as spina bifida. He discovered a number of B vitamins, among them folic acid, which allows red blood cells to carry iron. In 1998 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made folic acid a required ingredient in enriched bread, pasta, and other cereal grains. Officials report that the prevalence of spina bifida and anencephaly has dropped 26 percent since then.

Daniel Koshland Jr. (born 1920)

He introduced the “induced-fit” theory— that enzymes actually change shape when they interact with a substrate, much like a glove changes shape when a hand is inserted. During Koshland’s tenure as editor in chief from 1985 to 1995, Science magazine became one of the premier science journals in the country. He was also a key player in the reorganization process that grouped Berkeley’s 12 small biology departments into the three large ones on campus today.

Integrative Biology

Marian Diamond (born 1926)

The neurobiologist who showed that, given the proper stimulation, the brain can continue to develop at any age. The first female science professor at Berkeley, Diamond’s work has revolutionized the way we think about aging. She also showed that male and female brains are structured differently.


Alfred Kroeber (1876–1960)

Kroeber was a student of Franz Boas and founding professor of Berkeley’s anthropology department—the first in the West. Noted for his investigations into the nature of culture, he recorded the ways of disappearing Californian cultures in his Handbook of Indians of California, and influenced generations of anthropology students. He was director of the Hearst Museum of Anthropology from 1909 to 1947.

Sherwood Washburn (1911–2000)

Washburn studied primates to understand early hominid evolution. He was the first to suggest that humans evolved from primates that walked on their knuckles. He showed that tool use, hunting, and gendered division of labor all contributed to human evolution. He further linked anatomy (the structure of bones, joints, and muscles) to movement and thus social behavior.

Robert Heizer (1915–1979)

Heizer’s work on the archaeology of Native California and Nevada built the collections of the Hearst Museum of Anthropology into major resources, which are still in use by faculty and students today.

Department of Plant and Microbial Biology

Daniel Arnon (1910–1994)

The Polish-born researcher in plant nutrition and photosynthesis. Discovered that chloroplasts use sunlight to make ATP, or energy (this process is called photophosphorylation). He discovered that molybdenum is necessary for the growth of all plants; this led to increased crop yields around the world.


Griffith C. Evans (1887–1973)

Evans agreed to come to Cal after being given carte blanche to build the department into a powerhouse that ultimately included Jerzy Neyman and Hans Lewy, and to develop a graduate program in mathematics. His own work focused on potential theory, functional analysis, and mathematical economics. Evans Hall was dedicated in his honor in 1971.

Alfred Tarski (1902–1983)

He once declared himself to be “a mathematician (as well as a logician, and perhaps a philosopher of a sort).” Tarski’s 1933 paper “The concept of truth in formalized languages” is considered a seminal work on mathematical logic. Born in Poland, he left for a speaking engagement in the United States just before Hitler invaded in 1939 and became a permanent faculty member in 1942. Of his mentor, Berkeley Professor Robert Vaught said: “Tarski stands with a few others like Aristotle, Frege, and Gödel as one of the greatest of all logicians.”

Shiing-Shen Chern (1911–2004)

Chern once told an interviewer, “I don’t think I have big views. I only have small problems.” Considered one of the greatest geometers of his generation, he joined Cal’s math department in 1960, served as an officer of the American Mathematical Society, and received numerous honors. Upon retiring in 1979, he co-founded and became the first director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, which found a permanent home on campus in Chern Hall when the building was dedicated in March 2006.


Jerzy Neyman (1894–1981)

A Polish mathematician, he was considered the father of modern statistics and the founder of Berkeley’s statistics department. Neyman developed theories of hypothesistesting and confidence intervals, both of which are now core concepts in elementary statistics texts and without which commonly used statistical tests would not be possible.


E.O. Lawrence (1901–1958)

The 1939 Nobel Prize winner, Lawrence invented the cyclotron, which accelerates nuclear particles to very high velocities without the use of high voltages. The swiftly moving particles then bombarded atoms of various elements, disintegrating them and occasionally forming completel y new elements. Lawrence’s Radiation Lab became a center for war time atomic research. Chemical element number 103, discovered at LBNL in 1961, is named lawrencium in his honor.

J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904–1967)

Father of the atomic bomb, director of the Manhattan Project, and chairman of the postwar U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Thanks to his leftist leanings and his opposition to building hydrogen bombs, “Oppie” lost his security clearance and was asked to resign during McCarthyera witch-hunts.

Charles Townes (born 1915)

Townes was a 1964 Nobel Prize winner, inventor of the maser, and coinventor of the laser. He chaired the Advisory Committee for the first human landing on the moon. As chairman of a U.S. Department of Defense committee, he advised President Reagan against deploying the MX missile system. Townes is still an emeritus member of the faculty.


John Galen Howard (1864–1931)

Founder of the School of Architecture, Howard authored the campus plan and designed many of Cal’s great buildings, including the Greek Theatre and the Hearst Memorial Mining Building.

William Wurster (1895–1973)

As dean of the College of Architecture, he founded what is now known as the Environmental Design Archives. Though he wasn’t part of the design team that created Wurster Hall (named for both Wurster and his wife), Wurster had a vision of what the permanent home of the college should be: “I wanted it to look like a ruin that no regent would like,” he said, “it’s absolutely unfinished, uncouth, and brilliantly strong.”

Joseph Esherick (1914–1998)

Architect of Wurster Hall, Esherick created many noteworthy building prototypes, including Sea Ranch demonstration homes and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. He also shaped the broad interdisciplinary research/ design faculty and curriculum at the College of Environmental Design.

Christopher Alexander (born 1936)

A professor emeritus at the College of Architecture, Alexander’s iconic status came from the release of his book A Pattern Language in the late 1970s, which noted the basic points to consider when starting a design project and endowed non-designers with the sensibility to design their own spaces. Alexander also believes in injecting life—be it in a personal or spiritual sense—into manmade structures.


Laura Tyson (born 1947)

Tyson was a key architect of Bill Clinton’s domestic and international economic policies during his first term. As the president’s National Economic Advisor, she was the highest-ranked woman in the Clinton White House. She’s been a professor at Haas since 1990, and served as dean from 1998 to 2001 before taking leave from Berkeley to become dean of the London School of Economics. She returned to Cal earlier this year.

Paul Gertler (born 1955)

Since 2004 he has been chief economist for the Human Development sector of the World Bank. A professor at Haas and at the School of Public Health, Gertler’s work focuses on intersections between poverty, health, and education. Much of his research has been in Mexico, where he’s studied the antipoverty program Progresa. Gertler’s work has shown that proper health care can help break the cycle of poverty in which so many people become permanently mired.

David Teece (born 1948)

Listed by ScienceWatch as one of the ten most-cited scholars worldwide in economics and business, from 1995 to 2005; he has also been called an “economics rock star” by a government official in his native New Zealand. Teece is most famous in popular culture for testifying on behalf of several recording industry giants against Napster. He is also head of the Law and Economics Consulting Group in Emeryville. He helped found Russia’s first business school at the University of St. Petersburg, and he’s given credit in a 1999 New Yorker article for being the architect of Tony Blair’s economic policies.


William Lloyd Prosser (1898–1972)

Known as “Mr. Torts” for his preeminence in the field of tort law, Prosser became dean of the School of Jurisprudence at Berkeley in 1948 and served until 1961. Among his many achievements as dean, Prosser attracted bright, young faculty to the school and over saw the construction of the Berkeley School of Law building, which was completed in 1951. His Handbook of the Law of Torts, now in its 11th edition as Prosser on Torts, remains to this day the most popular casebook in the area.

Roger Traynor (1900–1983)

A miner’s son from Park City, Utah, Traynor rose to become one of the nation’s greatest judges. He served 30 years on the California Supreme Court, first as an associate justice from 1940 to 1964, and then as its 23rd Chief Justice from 1964 to 1970. Traynor became the first Boalt graduate and law school faculty member ever appointed to the state’s high court.

Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong (1890–1976)

One of just two women in her Boalt law school class, she earned a J.D. in 1915 and served as executive secretary of the California Social Insurance Commission from 1915 to 1919. Armstrong was the first woman appointed to a full-time faculty position at a major American law school. She became an assistant professor of social economics and law at Boalt in 1923, and a full professor in 1935.

As Armstrong prepared for retirement from Boalt, she insisted that another woman professor take her place. This woman, Herma Hill Kay (born 1934), was appointed to the law faculty in 1960, served as Boalt dean from 1992 to 2000, and today holds the Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong endowed chair.

Sanford H. Kadish (born 1921)

As a professor, dean, and criminal law scholar, Alexander F. and May T. Morrison Professor of Law, Emeritus, Sanford Kadish has been one of Boalt’s most distinguished figures. He joined the Boalt faculty in 1964 and served as Boalt’s dean from 1975 to 1982. Kadish has been a Guggenheim Fellow and president of both the American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Law Schools, as well as vice president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Stefan Albrecht Riesenfeld (1908–1999)

Riesenfeld was an expert on international and comparative law whose style and intellect left an indelible imprint on the students he taught for 46 years. Born in 1908 in Breslau, Germany, Riesenfeld earned two law degrees and practiced with a Berlin commercial firm until he was forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1934. He came to Boalt Hall in 1935 and, speaking little English when he arrived, managed to graduate two years later. He served as an LST commander for the Navy in the South Pacific during World War II. Riesenfeld joined the Boalt faculty in 1952 and, as a teacher and scholar, he was indefatigable. He wrote or edited 32 books, 140 articles, and 119 book reviews over the course of his career. Riesenfeld died on February 17, 1999, having spent the previous day grading bankruptcy law exams.

John T. Noonan Jr. (born 1926)

After graduation from Harvard Law School, Noonan worked as special staff to the United States National Security Council under the Eisenhower administration from 1954 to 1955. In 1967, he became a professor of law at Boalt and taught at the law school for 20 years. Noonan was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the newly created 27th seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in October 1985. During his term on the bench, he favored close scrutiny of death sentences and supported immigrants’ rights. He also authored the 1988 opinion upholding singer Bette Midler’s claim that Ford Motor Co. illegally used a sound-alike in a commercial without her consent.

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