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UC Berkeley In Brief

William J. Oswald, UC Berkeley professor emeritus and pioneer in the use of algae and bacteria to treat wastewater, dies at 86

– William J. Oswald, professor emeritus of environmental engineering and public health at the University of California, Berkeley, and an innovator in algae biotechnology and wastewater treatment, has died. He was 86.

Oswald died Dec. 8 at his Concord home, six months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 

William Oswald
William J. Oswald, near the wastewater treatment ponds at UC Berkeley's Richmond Field Station. Oswald developed a system of "integrated ponds" that takes advantage of two natural biological cycles to replace much of the energy and labor costs of conventional treatment. (Photo courtesy of Saxon Donnelly/UC Berkeley)

Oswald was among the first engineers to study the symbiotic interactions of algae and bacteria in treatment ponds, and to develop design methods for natural treatment systems powered primarily by solar energy. The study of such natural systems has developed in recent decades into the field of ecological engineering, an area of focus at UC Berkeley and several other universities.

"William Oswald developed and demonstrated sustainable technology decades before sustainability was a buzzword," said Bailey Green, research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a colleague of Oswald's for the past two decades. "He was a man ahead of his time, and a humanitarian above all else."

Oswald is survived by Eileen, sons Patrick and Michael, eight grandchildren (Holly, Katy, Patrick, Jack, Joe, Will, Eileen and Owen), and his sister, Roberta Oswald.

Rosary will be held at St. Agnes Church in Concord on Friday, Dec. 16 at 7 p.m.  The memorial mass, also at St. Agnes, will be held on Saturday, Dec. 17 at 9 a.m.  Memorial donations may be made to the Bitterwater Parent Teacher Fund and sent to 149 Alamo Springs Dr., Alamo, CA 94507.

A full obituary will be published by the NewsCenter on Monday, Dec. 19.