Baez, Albert V.

Alternative names
Birth 1912-11-25
Death 2007-03-20

Biographical notes:

Mexican-American physicist and educator; chairman, Commission on Education, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, 1979-1984; president, Viamos Mejor.

From the description of Albert V. Baez papers, 1955-2004. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 754872161

Biographical/Historical note

Albert Vinicio Baez, Ph.D. (1912-2007) was a prominent Mexican-American physicist, and the father of singers Joan Baez and Mimi Fariña.

Dr. Baez earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics from Drew University in 1933 and his master's degree in physics from Syracuse University in 1935. 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 PhD in physics from Stanford in 1950. After graduating, he developed zone plates—concentric circles of alternating opaque and transparent materials to use diffraction instead of refraction to focus X-rays. Unfortunately, much of his work had to await the development of synchrotron X-rays sources several decades later.

As the Cold War arose in the 1950s, Dr. 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. From 1950 to 1956, he held a professorship at the University of Redlands, where he continued his X-ray research. Dr. 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, Dr. 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.

Dr. 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). Dr. Baez made almost 100 films about physics for the Encyclopædia Britannica Educational Corp from 1967 to 1974. He also chaired the Commission on Education of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources from 1979 to 1983.

After his retirement, Dr. 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. Dr. Baez himself was inducted into the HENAAC Hall of Fame in 1998.

He died of natural causes March 20, 2007 at age 94.

From the guide to the Albert V. Baez papers, 1949-1995, (Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives)


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Ark ID:


  • International cooperation
  • Science--International cooperation
  • X-ray holography
  • Science--Study and teaching
  • Environmental policy
  • Physics
  • Community development
  • Education
  • X-ray microscopy
  • Physics--Experiments
  • Conservation of natural resources--Study and teaching
  • Stanford University--Faculty


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  • Mexico (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)