Memories of Professor George Trilling

Memories of Professor George Trilling

When I first arrived in Berkeley, Maya and George were so welcoming. We became friends, and enjoyed life in Berkeley watching our children grow up. George and I were immersed in research in different fields, but we both shared a love of the Department and the University and often discussed what’s best for the future of our institution. At faculty meetings, George would speak with clarity, insight, and purpose. His fairness and vision were even more evident when he was Chair. When he asked people to serve, they usually did because they knew of his dedication and hard work. I remember when George called to recruit me to run for election for President of the American Physical Society, I didn’t want to do it. I believe I would have turned down almost anyone else asking me to do this, but I couldn’t say no to George.

George was an outstanding researcher, educator, and an administrator with vision and pragmatism. His career serves as a model for future generations.

~Marvin L. Cohen


In addition to being a brilliant physicist, George Trilling was one of the nicest people you could ever meet. With the lovely Maya at his side, they graced many of the department chair dinners and receptions --always with a warm smile, and sincere interest in everyone they met.  My sincere condolences to Maya and all in the Trilling family.

~Susan Houghton, former Director of Development and Communications


I was working with the Trilling-Goldhaber group as an "undergraduate research worker" from 1973 to 1976. This was a monumental time for the group and for high energy physics and I was lucky enough to have been associated with George and Gerson at the time. While most of my work was with Gerson, I remember George as a very thoughtful and calm physicist who cared deeply about our science and who made a lasting impression on me from those times.

While I do not share the same personality as George, my memories of him during my brief association did serve as inspiration later in my research career; how to bring our humanity to the often very critical discussions on science.
Those memories have lasted throughout my career and served me well. Thank you, George.

~Ed Hartouni


I feel this closes a chapter of my life.

George Trilling was my first physics professor at Berkeley. That was the first quarter of my freshman year--fall, 1967. George was only 38 years old and looked like he did in this photo. I had signed up to take a nonmajors physics course, but not because I had any interest in physics. I figured that since I had just had an excellent high school physics course, this would be a good time to get one of my general education science requirements out of the way.

The class met in the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall (later the George Pimentel Hall). George was a fascinating and energetic lecturer and did many demonstrations in class. I don't know why I struggled so hard, but I spent a full hour every week in George's office getting help. I ended up taking two-quarters of physics with him.

That same fall I also took a nonmajors astronomy course from John Phillips. He was also a fascinating lecturer, and I spent time regularly in his office. That was the only astronomy course offered in 1967 for nonmajors, but I knew I wanted to take more astronomy. To do so, however, I needed to complete the five-quarter Berkeley Physics Course and to do that I needed to complete the entire sequence of calculus, analytic geometry, linear algebra, and differential equations.

Believe it or not, I signed up for calculus I for the winter quarter and also the second physics course in the sequence George was teaching. Then in spring, 1968, I started the first course of the Berkeley Physics sequence (mechanics), along with calculus II. I also started general chemistry with Samuel Markowitz. I figured, what the heck if I was going to take all that physics, astronomy, and math, I might as well throw in some chemistry. Sam was an excellent teacher who kept the Berkeley chemistry tradition of classroom demonstrations alive. And, of course, I spent an hour every week in his office. Later, in graduate school, I was a teaching assistant for Sam, who is still alive and is also 89 now.

During summer, 1969, I had completed the last of the Berkeley physics sequence and differential equations and had started the physical chemistry sequence. So, in fall, 1969, and winter, 1970, I took the first two astronomy courses for astronomy majors. A highlight of that was getting to do some astronomical photography at the University's observatory in Layafette, ten miles from the Berkeley campus.

But, that turned out to be enough astronomy. I decided I had satisfied my curiosity about astronomy and didn't need to take any more astronomy courses. I kept taking more physics, chemistry, and math, though, including quantum mechanics from Nobel Laureate Emilio Segre, and advanced inorganic chemistry from Neil Bartlett, the first person to synthesize a noble gas compound. I finally graduated with an interdepartmental major in the physical sciences. I was maybe two courses short of an undergraduate degree in physics, and three courses short of a degree in chemistry.

It was difficult to decide which discipline to choose for my graduate studies. I finally settled on chemistry because I enjoyed chemistry experiments more than I enjoyed physics experiments. To combine the two interests, I specialized in physical chemistry. The rest is history. After graduate school, I enjoyed a 42-year career in teaching chemistry (and quite a bit of physics and math) at the university level, finally retiring exactly three years ago today. I'd like to think that the many hundreds of classroom demonstrations I did for my students were a tribute to George Trilling and Sam Markowitz.

In about 2007, I attended a national physics conference in Atlanta, Georgia. I was walking down the concourse of the convention center and who should I see walking slowly towards me but none other than George Trilling. He would have been 76 then. I stopped him, introduced myself, and told him he was the inspiration for my education and eventually my career in science. He was very touched and appreciative that I was taking the time to tell him that. He said it really made his day.

As you can see, I have great memories of my Berkeley professors. They were the reason I so tremendously enjoyed my education at Berkeley. Just ask my former students if I ever mentioned that I was at Berkeley in the 60s!

As Paul Harvey always said, "And now you know the rest of the story!"

~Brian Nordstrom


Professor George Trilling was my undergraduate advisor before he became the Department Chair in the late 1960s. He was not only a very enthusiastic and energetic teacher, but also a great leader.  One of the vivid memories of my Junior year was when a large group of anti war protestors decided to show up during a Monday afternoon Physics colloquium. It was very impressive to watch how well George led the department during those very turbulent years of the Vietnam war era by exhibiting the highest degree of fortitude, spirit, and good humor, gaining the student and faculty activists' respect for his fair-mindedness and firmness.

Besides being a brilliant Physicist, George was a gifted teacher and a dedicated member of the Physics faculty who cared and loved the Department and the University. His distinguished career should serve as a model of commitment to the best one has to offer.

Throughout the past few decades, I had the pleasure to see George in various occasions. I will miss his friendly smile, eager enthusiasm, and warm human personality.

May his memory be a blessing.

~Michael Salour


I feel privileged to have gotten to spend time with George Trilling. George was an amazing and extraordinarily important scientist and a wonderful and generous person. He made an enormous difference to me when I was Physics Chair, both in practical terms of his helping me directly, but even more in his wisdom and sagacity. It is remarkable to me, and inspiring, every time I think about the idea that I got to follow in the footsteps (as Physics Chair and now as APS President) of someone as influential and yet humble and helpful as George was, and I wish I could still ask him for advice. He is very much missed.

~Frances Hellman

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