uc davis mechanical aerospace engineering professor emeritus hector baldis
Baldis in 2011. Photo: UC Davis Engineering.

In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus Hector Baldis

The Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) mourns the loss of professor emeritus Hector Baldis, who passed away on January 1. He is known for his distinguished research career in plasma physics, high-energy density science and inertial confinement fusion and his enthusiastic mentorship as a faculty member at UC Davis.

Born in Argentina, Baldis came to North America for his Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He spent the first part of his career in Canada, first as an assistant professor at the University of Quebec and later as the program leader for the Laser Plasma Physics division of the National Research Council. He came to the U.S. in 1991 to lead Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Inertia Confinement Fusion program.

Baldis officially joined UC Davis in 1996 as a member of the Department of Applied Sciences. However, his affiliation with UC Davis began in the early 90s at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, as he collaborated and published with multiple UC Davis faculty members, which was key to bringing him to campus.

“Professor Baldis’ research career was very distinguished,” said MAE professor and chair Cristina Davis. “He leaves a legacy of excellent scientific work and mentorship.”

At UC Davis, Baldis made his mark through teaching and mentorship for undergraduate and graduate students alike.

“His office would be strung with many optical components in their hardware form: camera lenses, shutter constructs, and more complex camera configurations,” said professor emeritus Yin Yeh, Baldis’ colleague at the Department of Applied Sciences. “He used these devices and gadgets to ignite the spark in the eyes and minds of the eager undergraduate students. For those interested, Hector would go through, in great detail, the physics behind each of these pieces, emphasizing to the students the importance of learning from the basics upward.”

Baldis was instrumental in forming, advising and mentoring UC Davis’ student chapters of the Optical Society of America (OSA) and the Society of Physical and Instrumental Engineering (SPIE). His students remember his enthusiasm for the organizations and his willingness to organize pizza parties and field trips to professional conferences, national labs and research facilities across the region.

“Due to those positive exposures, many of the students were quickly grabbed up by companies such as Apple, Coherent, HP, Lockheed and Spectra-Physics/Newport,” said Yeh.

At the same time, he kept up his rigorous research and was in constant demand internationally for collaborations and conferences in his field. Throughout his career, he maintained active collaborations in New York, Canada, the Czech Republic and France, where he was the director of the Laboratoire pour l’Utilisation des Lasers Intenses (LULI) for three years. One collaboration led to his book, Laser Plasma Theory and Simulation, which was published in 1994.

Baldis soon became involved in leadership in the Department of Applied Sciences. He chaired the department’s optical science and engineering program and was vice-chair of the department from 2008 until it closed in 2011. He spent the final three years of his career as a faculty member of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering until his retirement in 2014.

“Hector was a warm and gracious colleague who, after joining MAE, spent considerable time restructuring the undergraduate course ‘Professional Responsibilities of Engineers,’” said MAE professor Case van Dam. “Since his retirement we have missed his presence and contributions.”

His family is hosting a Celebration of Life on Sunday, February 2 at Elliston Vineyards in Sunol, CA.

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