University of California: In Memoriam, April 1963

Joseph Thomas Gier, Engineering: Los Angeles and Berkeley


Joseph Thomas Gier was graduated in Engineering from the Berkeley campus of the University of California in December 1933, and, after a brief period as a designer, he returned to serve the University continuously from 1937 until his death in 1961. He first served as a laboratory assistant at Berkeley, working in the area of heat transfer while simultaneously completing his work for the M.S. degree in engineering. Becoming interested in radiation, he served as a technician and then engineer in charge of the California Highway Patrol Illumination Laboratory. He then shifted to various phases of U.S. defense research and began teaching in electrical engineering. He continued his teaching and research on the Berkeley campus until 1958 when he was transferred to the Los Angeles campus as Professor of Engineering.

His research programs were mainly in the field of thermal radiation, particularly instrumentation. He was among the first to recognize the importance of spectral selectivity in radiant transfer and instrumentation. He was exacting in his examination of each facet of the operation of an instrument. This research contributed to the development of many instruments, such as the Gier-Dunkle directional radiometer, hemispherical radiometer, and heated cavity reflectometer. His work gained him worldwide recognition as an expert in infrared mensuration and made the University of California a center of work in this field. He was the author of over fifty publications, reports, and patents. These important works

set a standard of forthrightness and accuracy for others to follow.

As a teacher Joseph Gier is remembered by his students and colleagues alike as the best laboratory instructor ever to teach in electrical engineering at Berkeley. His great pains in preparing lectures, his deep personal interest in students, and his great grasp of the physical significance in mathematical abstractions made him a fine classroom instructor as well. He did not try to dazzle his students with his erudition; his goal was always imparting understanding.

Conversations with Joseph Gier revealed his excellent background in literature and in Western philosophy. He was well read, had a keen and wide-ranging mind, and was capable of incisive and vital discussions in philosophy, religion, politics, and economics.

In the area of human relations he was truly outstanding. No one who was associated with him ever had an unkind word to say about him. Often he was called upon to spearhead a movement to accomplish rights for the Negro race. He believed very strongly in the Christian ethic and, particularly, in the goodness of man. He therefore supported the evolutionary process in race relations. He was twice honored by Alpha Pi Alpha Fraternity: in 1950 as “Man of the Year” and in 1956 for “Outstanding Service to the Community and Fraternity” and was also honored by the Los Angeles Urban League for his attempts at bettering interracial relations.

A characteristic of Joseph Gier, which showed his interest in people, was his invariable readiness to listen to one's problems, large or small, technical or personal. He would always do his best to help. He was freely available to students, colleagues, stray visitors, or visiting dignitaries. He greeted them all with the same friendly and unassuming manner. He served for some time on the Los Angeles campus as a special adviser for transferring undergraduate students and would literally spend hours in counseling a student.


To the best of the knowledge of this committee, Joseph Gier's appointment (1952) as Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering made him the first Negro to hold an academic tenure position at the University of California. Any students who may have had misgivings at the start of a course because of his race soon came to appreciate his superior intellect and to respect him for the man he was. Rare cases of discrimination were encountered during travel, and he always met them with dignity, patience, and lack of rancour.

In summary, Joseph Thomas Gier will long be remembered as having made great contributions to engineering, attested by his publications, reports, and patents; as having made his imprint on a generation of engineering students, attested by the deep regard in which his former students hold him; as having been a humanitarian, attested by his awards; and as having been a good husband and father, attested by the love with which his wife Kathryn and sons Ronald and Keith bear him. He was a credit to his race and to the University of California.

L. M. K. Boelter D. K. Edwards L. L. Grandi E. H. Taylor

About this text
Courtesy of University Archives, The Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-6000;
Title: 1963, University of California: In Memoriam
By:  University of California (System) Academic Senate, Author
Date: April 1963
Contributing Institution:  University Archives, The Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-6000;
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