P. Buford Price ’54

Buford was born in Memphis, Tennessee on November 8, 1932 to Eva Tankersley Dupuy and Paul Buford Price, Sr. His early years were spent in Marianna, Arkansas. The family moved to Lexington, Kentucky when Buford started junior high school.

Following his high school graduation in 1948, he received a scholarship to attend Davidson College in North Carolina where he graduated summa cum laude. Buford then was given a scholarship to study in the Physics Department at the University of Virginia.

In June 1958 he received his PhD and married Jo Ann M. Baum, who was studying in the Graduate School of Foreign Affairs at UVA. That August he learned he had been granted a Fulbright Scholarship to do research at the H. H. Willis Physics Laboratory, University of Bristol, England. He and Jo Ann moved to England where later that year he was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship to do research the following year at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge University.

In Fall, 1960 Buford was recruited by at the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady, New York. He, Jo Ann, & the family moved to Niskayuna, New York where they lived for the next nine years. There were temporary excursions with the family to do research at the Physics Department, UC Berkeley (1963) and at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, India (1965-66).

In 1969 Buford was offered a professorship in the Department of Physics, UC Berkeley. He, Jo Ann and the family moved to Berkeley in September and have lived there ever since. There were short and long absences for sabbaticals with Guggenheim and Miller awards in Germany, Japan, Italy and Switzerland.

Buford was a Professor of Physics at UC Berkeley until his retirement in 2002. He remained a Professor of the Graduate School from 2002 until his death in 2021. Buford contributed his talents to several prominent leadership roles at Berkeley. He was Director of the Space Sciences Laboratory from 1979 to 1985, Chairman of the Department of Physics from 1987 to 1992, and Dean of Physical Sciences from 1992 to 2001.

His scientific accomplishments contributed to a wide range of disciplines. At General Electric, he developed the nuclear track-etch technique, which continues to find widespread application in geology, geophysics, anthropology, high-energy nuclear physics, exotic radioactivity, planetary science, and high-energy astrophysics, as well as commercial applications. He was one of the first scientists to analyze lunar samples returned by the Apollo astronauts, and later developed cosmic-ray detectors that were deployed on the Russian Space Station. He was a founding member of the AMANDA collaboration, later Ice Cube, the high-energy neutrino observatory installed in the polar ice underneath the South Pole. This collaboration led to highly productive work in glaciology, paleoclimatology, and the study of extremophile bacteria living in Antarctic ice. Buford was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences in 1975 as a result of his early work, and he contributed to many other fields during his research career spanning more than five decades.

Buford trained several generations of students who went on to productive scientific careers, a testament to his highly collaborative approach to doing science. He always encouraged his students and associates to explore their own ideas and generously supported their professional development. All who worked with Buford knew him to be a delightful colleague, peer and mentor.

Survivors include Jo Ann B. Price, his loving spouse of 63 years, their children and families: P. Buford Price, III (Bo), his spouse Cecilia Bartolucci, their children Lavinia and Eric of Munich, Germany; Heather A. Price, her daughter Haley Dixon of Berkeley; Pamela M. Wright (Pam), her spouse Peter E. Wright, their children Audra and Cory of Dallas, Texas; Alison P. James (Ali), her spouse Matthew L. James, their children Alec and Nick of Millbrook, New York. Buford was predeceased by his mother and father, his brother Charles Everett Price, and his and Jo Ann’s infant son Billy.

Along with his membership in the National Academy of Sciences, Buford was a member of the American Institute of Physics and the Bohemian Club. He had a successful and distinguished career and left his mark on many lives both professionally and socially. We will long remember his sparkling eyes and engaging smile. A celebration of Buford’s life will be held after Covid allows us to gather. Donations in Buford’s name can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association.

(More information: Niels Bohr Library and Archives; Physics History Network – American Institute of Physics)

Published by San Francisco Chronicle from Jan. 14 to Jan. 16, 2022.