Chestertown, MD, November 4, 2005 — William Oliver Baker, Class of 1935, a prominent scientist, former head of Bell Laboratories, and science adviser to five presidents, passed away from heart failure Monday, October 31, 2005, in Chatham, New Jersey. He was 90.
A physical chemist by training, Dr. Baker served as president of Bell Labs—now the research and development arm of Lucent Technologies—from 1973 to 1979 and retired as chairman of the board in 1980. During his tenure, Bell Labs scientists twice won the Nobel Prize in Physics: in 1977 for research into the electronic structure of glass and magnetic materials, and in 1978 for the research of Arno A. Penzias and Robert W. Wilson that led to the discovery of the cosmic background radiation created by the Big Bang.
Dr. Baker was born July 15, 1915, in Chestertown, and grew up on his family's 400-acre farm. He earned a bachelor's degree in physical chemistry from Washington College. In 1938 he earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Princeton and joined Bell Labs, then Bell Telephone Laboratories, in 1939 as a research scientist. During World War II, his research contributed to the development of synthetic rubber. After the war, he was named head of polymer research and development, and later became assistant director of chemical and metallurgical research and director of physical sciences research. He was Bell Lab's vice president of research from 1955 to 1973. Dr. Baker received 11 patents for his research on the crystalline molecular structure of various materials.
His expertise led to his appointments as a science adviser to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan. He served for many years as a member of the President's Science Advisory Committee, the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, and the Federal Emergency Management Advisory Board.
Among his many honors and awards are the National Medal of Science in 1988 and the 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Guglielmo Marconi International Fellowship Foundation at Columbia University. At the 2003 award ceremony, Dr. Martin Meyerson, president emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania, remarked: "Bill Baker towers above any other individual as the champion of industrial research in service to society. He has devoted more than six decades to being a diplomat of science in advocating and championing basic research for improving life in America."
Dr. Baker's wife, the former Frances Burrill, whom he married in 1941, died in 1999. He is survived by his son, Joseph Baker.