- Walter D. Knight, professor emeritus of physics at the University
of California, Berkeley, and an innovative researcher in the
field of nuclear magnetic resonance, died Wednesday, 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.
who retired in 1990, was a member of the National Academy
of Sciences and a former dean of the College of Letters &
Science at UC Berkeley. He came to Berkeley in 1950 as a young
scientist at the forefront of the then-new field of nuclear
magnetic resonance, a technique for studying details of the
atomic nucleus. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) has since
been applied to many fields, including magnetic resonance
imaging in medicine.
words of his colleagues, Knight was "a consummate experimentalist"
who concentrated on the study of the physical properties of
metals. He discovered a new NMR phenomenon - what his colleagues
dubbed the "Knight shift" - which was a significant development
in the understanding of the electronic properties of metals.
He pioneered the use of electric quadrupole resonance as well
as magnetic resonance as sensitive probes in studying structural
and other changes in metal crystals. His research also played
a crucial and unique role in understanding the electronic
properties of metallic alloys and superconductors.
his career, he initiated ground-breaking work on the physics
of small metal clusters, now referred to as nanoclusters.
He discovered their electronic shell structure and traced
the development of metallic properties as clusters increase
in size. This field has blossomed in the past 20 years, attracting
chemists and engineers as well as atomic and solid state physicists.
a major role in building the field of solid state physics
at UC Berkeley, yet he relished teaching introductory physics
courses, in particular those for pre-medical and liberal arts
students. His abiding interest and concern for students led
him to get involved in campus administration.
a very caring, conscientious person who was extremely supportive
of his students and of the university," said colleague Alan
M. Portis, professor emeritus of physics at UC Berkeley.
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
New York City on Oct. 14, 1919, he graduated from Middlebury
College in Vermont in 1941 and obtained his MA in 1943 and
his PhD in 1950 from Duke University. His education was interrupted
by two years as a radar officer in the U.S. Navy during World
War II, where he received a grounding in electronics that
subsequently proved useful in his experiments. From 1946 until
he received his PhD in 1950, he taught on the faculty at Trinity
College, Hartford, Conn. He joined the UC Berkeley physics
faculty in 1950 and became a full professor in 1961.
served as assistant and then associate dean of the College
of Letters & Science from 1959 until 1967, when he was appointed
dean. The college is the largest at UC Berkeley, and he soon
realized it was too large to be overseen by one person. 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 - and relinquished
his job to a new position of provost.
a fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of
the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He held two honorary
degrees, from Middlebury College and the Ecole Polytechnique
Federale de Lausanne.
retirement, he received the campus's highest honor, the Berkeley
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, Calif.; a stepson, Eric
Blanpied, of Berkeley; and a sister, Paula Knight Jeffries,
of Washington, D.C. and Marlborough, N.H. He also leaves five
will be in New Hampshire on July 17. A memorial service is
planned for the UC Berkeley campus sometime in September.
His family requests that donations in his memory be made to
the Department of Physics, MC 7300, University of California,
Berkeley CA 94720-7300.