After a childhood in Southern Utah working as a sheepherder and stunt rider, Walt Gibson received his Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry under Nobel Laureate Glen Seaborg in 1956. He then spent nearly twenty years at Bell Labs, where he did groundbreaking research in semiconductor detectors, radiation effects, and ion channeling, which led to the success of the Telstar satellite. In 1970, he was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
In 1976, Walter was invited to chair the physics department of the University at Albany, SUNY (where he was fond of noting that they must have been confused as he had been neither an academic nor a physicist). He remained with the department for more than 25 years, also serving for periods as Vice President for Research, and Dean of Graduate Studies, and was honored with the university's first named professorship, the James W. Corbett Distinguished Service Professor of Physics, in 1998. He retired from the university in 2001 to become the full-time chief technical officer of X-ray Optical Systems, Inc., which he had cofounded in 1991. His x-ray work included pioneering beam line development and x-ray standing wave studies as well as the use of tube sources with polycapillary and curved crystal optics for imaging and analysis. He was the author of more than 300 technical articles and was dissertation chair for 48 Ph.D. students. He always felt that his family included friends, students, and colleagues.
He died after a long and courageous battle with leukemia, surrounded by family and friends and still engaged in his latest research project in collaboration with the Alzheimer's Center of Albany Medical Center. Walter Gibson's boundless enthusiasm, caring, and courage inspired multiple generations of scientists.