Former Dean of Engineering Innovated in Field, Expanded Department


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Former UC Berkeley professor and Dean of Engineering John Whinnery passed away on Feb. 1. He was 92.

Whinnery, who also served as department chair of electrical engineering and computer science, received awards for his contributions to the field of electrical engineering, including his research in microwave tubes and innovations in laser technology.

"He was one of the first in the world (and) in the university doing research on lasers and laser applications," said Connie Chang-Hasnain, a UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer science and a former student of Whinnery's.

She said Whinnery had been one of the first to find out how to propagate light over long distances, building the basis for modern telecommunications.

Whinnery served as dean of engineering from 1959 to 1963, and retired from UC Berkeley in 1987.

He co-authored the textbook "Fields and Waves in Modern Radio" in 1944, and authored another edition with colleague and UC Berkeley professor Theodore Van Duzer in 1965, which was re-named "Fields and Waves in Communications Electronics."

"I feel like he was very critical in setting the tone in our department, an unusually collegiate tone that still exists today," Van Duzer said.

Chang-Hasnain said the textbook is still relevant and well-used.

Whinnery entered UC Berkeley in 1935 as an undergraduate student and became a professor in 1952. His areas of research included microwave electronics, electromagnetic fields, quantum electronics and optics.

During his tenures as department chair and dean, Whinnery expanded the department and recruited prestigious professors, Chang-Hasnain said.

"(He) built the reputation we have today," she said. "He was able to recruit and identify top-notch people."

For his work to improve the engineering program at UC Berkeley and other UC campuses, Whinnery earned the honorary title of University Professor in 1980.

"At that time there were altogether only eight or 10 University Professors," Chang-Hasnain said.

Whinnery advised 35 doctoral students, including Chenming Hu, now an electrical engineering professor.

"One hallmark was his care to protect the creativity and to instill confidence in his students," Hu said. "He has been an inspiration and someone all his students try to live up to."


Contact Arielle Turner at [email protected]

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