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Experimental solid state physicist and former dean Walter Knight has died at the age of 80

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Experimental solid state physicist and former dean Walter Knight has died at the age of 80

Posted July 12, 2000

Walter Knight, professor emeritus of physics and an innovative researcher in the field of nuclear magnetic resonance, died June 28, at his summer home in Marlborough, N. H. The cause of death was heart disease complicated by end-stage Alzheimer's disease. He was 80.

Knight, who retired in 1990, was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a former dean of the College of Letters & Science. He came to Berkeley in 1950 as a young scientist at the forefront of the then-new field of nuclear magnetic resonance, which has since been applied to many fields, including magnetic resonance imaging in medicine.

He relished teaching introductory physics courses, in particular those for pre-medical and liberal arts students.

"He was a very caring, conscientious person who was extremely supportive of his students and of the university," said colleague Alan Portis, professor emeritus of physics.

Amid turbulent times in the 1960s, he assumed the position of dean of the College of Letters & Science, winning the praise of many for his handling of difficult issues involving students and faculty alike. He was once forced to barricade himself and his staff in Moses Hall overnight to protect confidential faculty and student files from rampaging students until police could rescue them.

Born in New York City on Oct. 14, 1919, he graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont in 1941 and obtained his M.A. in 1943 and his Ph.D. in 1950 from Duke University. His education was interrupted by two years as a radar officer in the Navy during World War II. He joined the Berkeley physics faculty in 1950 and became a full professor in 1961.

Knight served as assistant and then associate dean of the College of Letters & Science from 1959 until 1967, when he was appointed dean. Before he returned to teaching in 1972, he split the unwieldy job among four new deans -- one each for the humanities and the physical, biological and social sciences.

Upon his retirement, he received the campus's highest honor, the Berkeley Citation.

Knight is survived by his wife of 28 years, Sara Pattershall Knight, of Berkeley; their son Nathaniel Knight of Berkeley; two children from a previous marriage, Margaret Knight of Washington, D.C., and Jonathan Knight of El Cerrito; a stepson, Eric Blanpied, of Berkeley; and a sister, Paula Knight Jeffries, of Washington, D.C. and Marlborough, N.H. He also leaves five grandchildren.

Burial will be in New Hampshire on July 17. A memorial service is planned for the campus sometime in September. His family requests that donations in his memory be made to the Department of Physics, MC 7300.



July 12 - August 16, 2000 (Volume 29, Number 1)
Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
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