Former Professor 'Lived Every Day to the Fullest'

Photo: Hugh Bradner
Hugh Bradner

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Former UC Berkeley physics professor Hugh Bradner, who combined his academic background and his love for the outdoors to invent the neoprene wetsuit, died May 5. He was 92.

Bradner died in his San Diego home from pneumonia. His wife, Marjorie, a Berkeley alumna, died three weeks earlier. They had been married for 65 years.

According to Bari Cornet, Bradner's daughter and a professor at UC Berkeley's School of Social Welfare, her father was one of the first scientists to work on the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb. He created the triggering mechanism for the bomb. Bradner also met his wife while working on the project.

In 1945, Bradner became a physics professor at UC Berkeley, where he remained until 1960. Inspired by his childhood love of diving, he started dreaming up an idea to keep divers warm while in cold waters.

"My father had always been interested in swimming and diving ever since he was a small child," Cornet said. "During World War II he was doing some work with the Navy and found that navy frogmen were incredibly cold, so he started fooling around with various material to figure out how to accommodate that."

In part because of his work on the wetsuit, Bradner was recruited to UC San Diego and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where he became a professor of geophysics.

His studies of the ocean took him on several sailing trips, which was one way Bradner coupled academics with his sense of adventure and love of the outdoors.

"He lived every day to the fullest with a combined passion for science and a passion for the natural world," said Jasper Rine, a relative of Bradner's and a professor of molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley.

Bradner, called Brad by his colleagues, became a provost at UC San Diego. Rine said Bradner would often promote the university system.

"We were in Baja and (Bradner) was wading in the water and stepped on a ray," Rine said. "We took him to the local clinic, and at the clinic as his wound was being dressed his doctor said he wanted to go to (medical) school and Brad said, 'You should go to one of the UC (medical) schools.' Most people would be a bit flummoxed that their doctor hadn't gone to (medical) school, but while he's being operated on he's recruiting."

Bradner retired from teaching in 1980 but spent time hiking, scuba diving, skiing and singing. Cornet said she still went scuba diving with her father when he was 80.

Bradner is survived by his daughter, three grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. A memorial celebration honoring Bradner and his wife will be held May 25 at 3 p.m. at the UC San Diego Faculty Club.

Rine said Bradner will be missed by everyone who knew him.

"There's no one who knew him who didn't treasure their experience with him," Rine said. "He was an extraordinary human being."


Contact Amy Brooks at [email protected]

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