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Albert Baez

Albert Baez
Born Albert Vinicio Baez
(1912-11-15)November 15, 1912
Puebla, Puebla, Mexico
Died March 20, 2007(2007-03-20) (aged 94)
San Mateo County, California
Nationality United States
Fields Physics
Alma mater Drew University (B.S.)
Syracuse University (M.S.)
Stanford University (Ph.D.)
Doctoral advisor Template:If empty
Known for X-ray microscopy
Physics education
Notable awards Dennis Gabor Award (1991)

Albert Vinicio Baez (/ˈb.ɛz/; November 15, 1912 – March 20, 2007) was a prominent Mexican-American physicist, and the father of singers Joan Baez and Mimi Fariña. He was born in Puebla, Mexico, and his family moved to the United States when he was two years old because his father was a Methodist minister. Baez grew up in Brooklyn and considered becoming a minister before turning to mathematics and physics. He made important contributions to the early development of X-ray microscopes and later X-ray telescopes.[1][2]

Early life

Baez earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics from Drew University in 1933 and then a master's degree in mathematics from Syracuse University in 1935.[3] In 1936, he married Joan Chandos Bridge, the daughter of an Episcopalian minister. The couple became Quakers and had three daughters: Pauline, Joan and Mimi. Together they moved to California, where he pursued a doctorate in physics. In 1948, along with Stanford University professor Paul Kirkpatrick (1894–1992), Baez developed the X-ray reflection microscope for examination of living cells. This microscope is still used today in medicine. Baez received his Ph.D. in physics from Stanford in 1950. After graduating, he developed zone plates — concentric circles of alternating opaque and transparent materials that use diffraction instead of refraction to focus X-rays. Much of this work's impact came decades later with the development of very high intensity synchrotron X-ray sources.[4]

Academic life

In 1949, Albert accepted a position as an experimental physicist at Cornell University where he ended up heading the Cornell University's division of the CIA's infamous MKULTRA program. As the Cold War arose in the 1950s, Baez's talents were in high demand for the developing arms race. However, influenced by his family's pacifist beliefs, he refused lucrative war industry jobs, preferring instead to devote his career to education and humanitarianism. Although, some would consider this ironic in light of his work in the field of mind-control and propaganda during the MKUltra years.

Read more: From 1950 to 1956, he held a professorship at the University of Redlands, where he continued his X-ray research. Baez took a yearlong leave to work with UNESCO in 1951, stationing his family in Baghdad to establish the physics department and laboratory at Baghdad University. In 1959, Baez accepted a faculty position at MIT, and moved his family to the Boston area. In 1960, working with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, MA, he developed optics for an X-ray telescope. Later that year he moved to the faculty of Harvey Mudd College, and moved his family to Claremont, California. From 1961 to 1967, he directed science teaching for UNESCO in Paris.

Baez was the author of the textbook The New College Physics: A Spiral Approach (1967). He was also the co-author of the textbook The Environment and Science and Technology Education (1987) and the memoir A Year in Baghdad (1988). Baez was not limited to print media, though, making almost 100 films about physics for the Encyclopædia Britannica Educational Corp from 1967 to 1974. Baez also chaired the Commission on Education of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources from 1979 to 1983.

In June 1974 Baez was awarded an honorary degree by the British Open University as Doctor of the University.[citation needed]


After his retirement, Baez occasionally delivered physics lectures and was president of Vivamos Mejor/USA, an organization founded in 1988 to help impoverished villages in Mexico. Its projects include preschool education, environmental projects, and community and educational activities. In 1991, the International Society for Optical Engineering awarded him and Kirkpatrick the Dennis Gabor Award for pioneering contributions to the development of X-ray imaging microscopes and X-ray imaging telescopes. In 1995, the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation (HENAAC) established the Albert V. Baez Award for Technical Excellence and Service to Humanity. Baez himself was inducted into the HENAAC Hall of Fame in 1998.

Baez was the father of folk singers Joan Baez and Mimi Fariña, and Pauline Bryan; he also was the uncle of mathematical physicist John Baez. He had three grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. He died of natural causes March 20, 2007 at age 94 in the Redwood City care home where he had lived for the prior three years. Baez had been divorced from his wife, Joan Bridge Baez, for several years, at the time of his death. (According to the singer Joan Baez, speaking at the 2009 Newport Folk Festival, her parents married each other a second time before his death.[5] His obituary in the New York Times states that "his survivors include his wife, Joan Bridge Baez of Woodside, Calif." [6])

At a private dinner in 1982, when asked how it was to be the father of a famous person, Baez told the following story with great delight:[7] "I was at a conference dinner, and as usual a young man was looking carefully at my name tag. Finally, he got up the courage to ask the inevitable question about my relationship to Joan Baez. But instead he asked, 'Are you Albert Baez, the inventor of the X-ray microscope?' Now, THAT was a compliment!"


  1. ^ días estranhos
  2. ^ Liberatore, Paul (March 20, 2007). "Noted scientist was father of Joan Baez and Mimi Farina". Marin Independent Journal. 
  3. ^ Mellada, Carmela (Spring 1991). "Professional Profile: Albert Baez". The Hispanic Engineer: 23. 
  4. ^ Levy, Dawn (May 16, 2007). "Memorial service set May 24 for physicist, X-ray optics pioneer Albert Baez". Stanford University News Service. 
  5. ^ -- see the intro to Forever Young, which she says she sang at her parents' second marriage ceremony.
  6. ^ "Albert Baez, 94, Scientist and Singers’ Father, Dies". The New York Times. March 27, 2007. 
  7. ^ Robert W. Schmieder, private communication.

Further reading

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