Sheldon Breiner, the Portola Valley resident and open space advocate who used magnetism to find sunken ships and lost cities, died on Oct. 9 at the age of 82 after a long illness, according to his wife Mimi Breiner.
Breiner, who had bachelor's and master's degrees and a doctorate in geophysics from Stanford University, founded a company called Geometrics in 1969 that built magnetometers, which measure magnetic fields.
He used the devices to help archaeologists search deep below the ground or water, joining explorers looking for sunken ships off the coast of California and Mexico.
Breiner also helped discover the ruins of Sybaris, an ancient city in Southern Italy, as well as more than 100 ancient artifacts from the Olmec civilization in Mexico, which existed between 1200 and 400 B.C.
Breiner sold Geometrics in 1976, but continued leading the company until 1983, when he founded Syntelligence, an artificial intelligence company that designed software for banking and insurance underwriting.
He later helped found Quorum Software Systems, which built software that allowed Apple applications to work with hardware made by other companies.
While he was in college he worked for Varian Associates, a Palo Alto company that made electromagnetic equipment, and he stayed at that firm until he founded Geometrics.
While at Varian, he demonstrated the use of a magnetic device for detecting weapons, which was used by the U.S. government to find a hydrogen bomb that had fallen into the ocean off the coast of Spain in 1966.
Civic and community involvement
Besides his business ventures, Breiner was co-founder of of the Peninsula Open Space Trust and, with Mimi Breiner, established an endowment to support scholarships for Stanford students in geophysics.
He also served as chairman of the Geologic Safety Committee for Portola Valley, which lies on the San Andreas Fault.
Breiner was a distance runner who competed in 10 marathons, including the Boston Marathon, and enjoyed skiing, hiking, photography and travel.
Born on Oct. 23, 1936, in Milwaukee, Breiner spent his childhood in St. Louis, Missouri, where his parents, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, owned a bakery.
He entered Stanford in 1955 after the university offered to pay for his education if he studied earth sciences. He completed his doctorate in the field in 1967.
He met Mimi Farrington while at Stanford, and they were married in 1962. He is survived by Mimi; a son, David (Sharon Geaghan); a daughter, Michelle Driskill-Smith (Alexander Driskill-Smith); a brother, Richard (Dorothy); and five granddaughters: Charlotte, Meredith, Julia, Beatrix, and Elyse.
A community celebration of his life will be announced later, according to Mimi Breiner.
The family prefers memorial donations be made to the Peninsula Open Space Trust.