You are here:

Peter Godbe Gibbs: 1924 - 2019



Peter Gibbs


Salt Lake Tribune Obituary

Peter Godbe Gibbs passed away on July 13, 2019. Peter was born Dec 7, 1924 in Salt Lake City, Utah to
Lauren Worthen Gibbs and Mary Godbe Gibbs. Peter had three brothers, Edwin, David and William, and one sister, Mary Adele. In 1953 he married Miriam Starling Kvetensky in Urbana, Illinois. They had 3 children (Doon/Teri (spouse), Victoria and Nicholas/Courtney (spouse)), 5 grandchildren (Colin/Kaitlyn (spouse), Connor/Ale (spouse), Julia, Theo and Alex) and 3 great grandchildren, so far (Nico, Santi and Isla). They remained married until Miriam's death and enjoyed 58 years together. He is survived by his younger brother, William, and all of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

As a child, Peter attended Ensign elementary school, Bryant Jr. High School and East High School in Salt Lake City. He was good at math, science and writing, and wanted to be a journalist. As a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the US Navy in Dec. 1941. Because of his capacity for science, the Navy enrolled him in a series of universities, including Beria College (in Kentucky), the University of Michigan, and Columbia University, studying physics as part of the V-12 program. Peter subsequently received his commission as a naval officer. He then attended Gunnery Officers Training School and became an anti-aircraft gun commander as an Ensign. He was assigned to the Cruiser, the USS Columbia, as an Instructor to newly commissioned officers. He left the Navy as a Lt. Commander shortly after the war ended.

Peter Gibbs  While in the Navy, Peter discovered that he loved physics. He attended the
  University of Utah and received his Bachelors of Science in 1947, his Masters of
  Science in 1949 and his PhD in 1951, all in physics-the latter under the guidance
  of the distinguished physical chemist Henry Eyring. He subsequently conducted 
  post-doctoral studies from 1951-2 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-
  Champaign under John Bardeen, who received 2 Nobel Prizes in Physics. Between 
  1952 and 1955 Peter was an Instructor in the Physics Department at the
  University of Illinois and a Fulbright Lecturer in theoretical physics in Colombo,
  Ceylon at the University of Ceylon--a remarkable adventure with a young wife and
                                                new baby.

After the years in Illinois and Ceylon, Peter had several interesting job offers at prestigious universities and companies in the Midwest and on the East Coast, but he decided to return home to the University of Utah and to the mountains. He joined the Department of Ceramic Engineering in 1955 and then moved to the Physics Department in 1956. He rose through the ranks to become Full Professor in 1962. He was honored with the Ross Coffin Purdy Award by the American Ceramic Society for his work on theoretical modeling of ceramic materials in 1962.

Peter Gibbs

  In addition to being a professor of physics, he served as a consultant at different      times between 1957 and 1967 to the North American Aviation Company, to 
  Atomics International, to the Stanford Research Institute and to the Organization 
  of the American States (advising on scientific affairs). In 1963 he again took a
  young family with three children aged 5 to 10 on an adventure to Sao Carlos,
  Brazil for a year where he was a Fulbright Lecturer in physics at the University of
  Sao Carlos. ("If you're not doing stuff, you're not alive.") From 1967 to 1976 Peter 
  served as Chair of the Physics Department at the University of Utah. As Chair, he
  considerably grew the department, attracting new and distinguished faculty in a range of new disciplines, spearheading construction of a new building and starting the novel "Science and Society" curricula. The department's national and international stature correspondingly grew.

Peter Gibbs  Perhaps his best-known accomplishment as Chair was creating the Frontiers of 
  Science Lecture Series in 1968, attracting world-renown scientists across all fields
  of science to give popular lectures that anyone could understand. In the early days,    he attracted well-known scientists, many his friends, by inviting them to ski with us    on the weekends, including elaborate dinners at home. Later, as the Frontiers of 
  Science became well-known, the ski weekends were no longer necessary to attract
  famous speakers. Extremely well-attended, and imitated around the country, these 
  lectures are now an established University Utah Lecture Series. Last year, Peter was
  honored at the 50th anniversary. He was proud of the series and of the fact that he had successfully nominated one of its earliest speakers, Murray Gell-Mann, for the 1969 Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery of the quark. During these years Peter also managed to lead a research project focused on bio-engineering, characterizing the current of injury that accompanies bone displacements.

From 1977 until his retirement in 1992, Peter continued research and teaching in the Physics Department at the University, including sabbaticals in the Physics Department at the University of California Berkeley and in the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He was an
unrelenting supporter of up-and-coming young people, offering encouragement and advice based on his experience. He started a life-long project, called "The Upside-Down Theory," to describe fundamental elements of physics using a few simple symmetry principles and connect them in surprising ways to other parts of science. Upon his retirement, he wrote to the then chairman of physics to state that it was a
privilege to be a physicist, and that he was stepping down to make room for others. His interest in physics, however, never stopped and he was active until the very last days of his life.

Although Peter's life was consumed by his family, their adventures and his science, he was also an avid artist, photographer, skier, mountaineer and river rat. He founded the Great Uintah, River Green, Life Raft Establishment (GURGLE) in 1970. And he finally built his life-long desire, a mountain cabin, called Machu Petchy, in the Albion Basin in 1979. He loved the mountains, and spent as much time as he could at the cabin with his family--hiking, skiing, cooking amazing dinners and just watching the out-of-doors through the giant glass windows that comprise the walls. 

Peter Gibbs

Peter's family remembers him as a loving father, grandfather and great grandfather, who supported us unconditionally in all of our life's projects. He had a remarkably positive approach to living, centered on constructive activity, that aimed to make the world a better place. He was a happy man, never defeated and he never gave up. He demonstrated this characteristic every day of his life, but especially in his later years as his capacity began to diminish. As he would often say: "The glass is always full, half water and half air." Together with our mother, Miriam, they set a clear, stable, and unconditionally loving base from which we children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren could grow, and explore our lives. We loved them both, are proud of their accomplishments and will hold them close in our hearts for the rest of our lives.

In lieu of flowers please consider a gift to the Huntsman Cancer Foundation. The kindness and care provided by The Ridge Senior Living, Danville Support Services and Bristol Home Care are greatly appreciated.

Celebration of Life

A celebration of Peter's life will be held in September. If you would like to join us, please send your contact information to


Share this article:


Physics News


Last Updated: 7/26/19