Born in an Arkansas shack with a dirt floor in 1914, Bill Baker hopped trains to California during the Depression and sent the money he made working for the Civilian Conservation Corps back to his mother, who saved it and presented it to him in 1936 as partial payment for his education at Cal. In 1938, before he finished his degree, Baker was hired by Ernest O. Lawrence as the first electrical engineer in Lawrence’s Radiation Lab, which later flowered into Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He worked on the Manhattan Project and numerous experiments at Berkeley Lab for 42 years, contributing to discoveries that won several Nobel Prizes for UC Berkeley chemists and physicists. Baker retired in 1980 and died May 4 at the age of 103, having lived a full and colorful life.
The author of about 50 patents, Baker once jokingly told the author of a profile in Berkeley Lab’s “Currents” newsletter, “I’m always enthusiastic about my ideas, until I discover what’s wrong with them.”