William Pickard, senior professor in McKelvey School of Engineering, 90

Pickard was faculty in electrical engineering for more than 50 years

Beth Miller 

William Pickard, a senior professor in the Preston M. Green Department of Electrical & Systems Engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, died Thursday, March 9, 2023, in Portland, Oregon, after a short illness. He was 90.

Pickard joined the faculty at Washington University in the early 1960s and spent the majority of his career as a professor in what was then the Department of Electrical Engineering, teaching and conducting research in high voltage engineering, electrobiology, the biological effects of electromagnetic fields, and biological transport and systems biology. He received a distinguished faculty award from the Engineering school’s Class of 1973.

Later in his career, he focused on the theory and practice of massive energy storage for reliable, dispatchable energy. Specifically, he looked at exploring likely trajectories that the fossil fuels follow on their way to exhaustion; sharing the importance of preparing now for that exhaustion; evaluating the sustainability of future renewable energy sources; and discerning the potential realism of proposed energy storage technologies.

Pickard was elected a Fellow of the IEEE in 1989 “for contributions the engineering aspects of biology and in particular to our understanding of the health effects of nonionizing radiation,” and was elected an IEEE Life Fellow in 2000. He co-edited a special issue of Proceedings of the IEEE, “The Intermittency Challenge: Massive Energy Storage in a Sustainable Future,” in February 2012 with Derek Abbott, professor in the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Adelaide and a fellow of the IEEE. In addition, his paper, “Smart Grids Versus the Achilles’ Heel of Renewable Energy: Can the Needed Storage Infrastructure Be Constructed Before the Fossil Fuel Runs Out?” published in the Proceedings of the IEEE in 2014, was one of the most impactful of his career, although he had already retired, said Joseph O’Sullivan, the Samuel C. Sachs Professor of Electrical Engineering and dean of the UMSL/WashU Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program and former colleague.

“It was impressive that he continued to have an impact and got even more visibility through that work,” O’Sullivan said. “There were a lot of people interested in how to power our country.”

O’Sullivan credits Pickard for introducing him to participating in the Faculty Senate, both as secretary and then chair of the Faculty Senate Council from 2002-2004.

“That whole path and experience in faculty self-governance I credit to Bill for putting me forward to have that opportunity, and I’m very grateful to him for that,” O’Sullivan said.

A native of Boston, Pickard was a professional engineer registered in Missouri. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Boston University in 1954, and master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard University in 1955 and 1962, respectively. He completed postdoctoral appointments at Harvard and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Pickard was an avid runner, entering road races in the St. Louis area until peripheral neuropathy prevented him from running, said his daughter, Koré Pickard. He also enjoyed working out in the weight room of Francis Fieldhouse, often at the same time as Professor Bob Yaris from the Department of Chemistry, who was very muscular, an amusing contrast to Pickard’s wiry runner’s frame, Koré Pickard said.

Pickard is survived by his children, Koré Pickard, her husband and son; and William Pickard. He was preceded in death by his wife, Barbara Pickard, professor emerita of biology in Arts & Sciences, in 2019.

A private memorial gathering is planned for family early this summer.  

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