Chancellor Emeritus Robert J. Birgeneau - Biography

Arnold & Barbara Silverman Professor of Physics, Materials Science & Engineering, and Public Policy
University of California, Berkeley

Robert J. Birgeneau became the ninth chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, on September 22, 2004 serving until May 31, 2013.  An internationally distinguished physicist, he is a leader in higher education and is well known for his commitment to diversity and equity in the academic community.  During his service as Chancellor, Birgeneau strengthened UC Berkeley’s standing as one of the top few universities, public or private, in the world.  Under his leadership Berkeley became the first university in the United States to offer comprehensive financial aid to undocumented students and the first public university to provide significant financial aid to middle class students.

Before coming to Berkeley, Birgeneau served four years as President of the University of Toronto. He previously was Dean of the School of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he spent 25 years on the faculty. He is a fellow of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London, the American Philosophical Society and other scholarly societies. He has received many awards for teaching and for his research on the fundamental properties of materials.

His awards include a special Founders Award from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the 2008 Carnegie Corporation Academic Leadership Award as a “Champion of Excellence and Equity in Education,” and the 2009 Shinnyo-en Foundation’s 2009 Pathfinders to Peace Prize for his contributions to bringing about a more peaceful world.  In 2012 Birgeneau received the Compton Medal from the American Institute of Physics.  In 2016 he received the Vannevar Bush Award from the National Science Board, honoring “truly exceptional lifelong leaders in science and technology who have made substantial contributions to the welfare of the Nation through public service activities in science, technology, and public policy.”  He also has received honorary doctorates from a number of universities.

A Toronto native, Birgeneau received his B.Sc. in mathematics from the University of Toronto in 1963 and his Ph.D. in physics from Yale University in 1966. He served on the faculty of Yale for one year, spent one year at Oxford University, and was a member of the technical staff at Bell Laboratories from 1968 to 1975. He joined the physics faculty at MIT in 1975 and was named Chair of the Physics Department in 1988 and Dean of Science in 1991. He became the 14th president of the University of Toronto on July 1, 2000.

At Berkeley, Birgeneau holds the Arnold and Barbara Silverman Distinguished Chair in the Departments of Physics, Materials Science and Engineering and Public Policy.  He and his wife, Mary Catherine, have four grown children and twelve grandchildren.