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SCIENCE HERO:
ALBERT BAEZ
by Emma Navajas

Albert Baez (www.sfgate.com)

Albert Vinicio Baez, a distinguished Mexican physicist, was born on November 25, 1912 in Puebla, Mexico. Baez demonstrated that he was a smart and dedicated individual by attaining various academic degrees. He earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics from Drew University in 1933 and, working at a fast pace, earned his master's degree in physics a mere two years later from Syracuse University. Taking a short break from school, Baez married Joan Chandos Bridge in 1936. The couple became Quakers and subsequently had three daughters named Pauline, Joan and Mimi. The family of five soon moved to California where Baez earned a second master's degree in mathematics from Stanford University and began a doctorate degree in physics at the same university.

A few years into his doctorate studies, in 1948, Baez, along with his doctoral advisor, Stanford professor Paul Kirkpatrick, developed the X-ray reflection microscope for the examination of living cells. Still used today, the microscope was an incredible contribution to modern science. Baez received his doctorate in 1950 and immediately after graduating; he set himself to work on various x-ray advancements.

Following his graduation, in the 1950s, the Cold War arose and Baez's knowledge and skills were in high demand for the development of weapons of mass destruction. But, despite the large sums he would have earned, Baez refused to be a part of the war industry and decided to devote his time to humanitarianism and education instead. He was a professor at the University of Redlands from the years 1950 to 1956, and even though he dedicated most of his days to teaching, he also set aside time for his research into X-rays. One year after commencing his work at the university, Baez decided to take a year off and go to Baghdad with his family to work with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). His job was to establish the physics department and laboratory at Baghdad University. After his time in Baghdad, he returned to the University of Redlands and continued his work there. In 1959, he got a job at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and he, along with his wife and three daughters, moved to Boston. One of his most important scientific developments was uncovered in 1960 while working with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge: he developed optics for an X-ray telescope.

Baez was widely known as a pacifist, and if his refusal to develop the arms race during the Cold War wasn't enough to prove it, his close work with UNESCO was. Apart from his year in Baghdad, Baez was the director of science teaching for UNESCO in Paris from the years 1961 to 1967. He strongly opposed the Vietnam War and, along with his daughters, was a part of the 1960s war protests. In 1967, he wrote the college physics textbook: "The New College Physics: A Spiral Approach". He was also the co-author of "The Environment and Science and Technology Education" in 1987, and the memoir "A Year in Baghdad" in 1988. In addition to his work with books, he made close to 100 films about physics for the Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corp. As if all of these accomplishments weren't enough, Baez earned the Dennis Gabor Award in 1991 for his contribution to the development of X-ray imaging microscopes and telescopes.

On March 20, 2007, at the age of 94, Albert Baez died of natural causes at the Redwood City care home. Baez's life was long and full. He studied very hard, worked even harder, and devoted his life to the development of science and technology.


Written by Emma Navajas
Last changed on: 3/1/2015 2:10:18 PM

Albert Baez Albert Baez, Science Educator and UNESCO Pioneer

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