News

Portola Valley geophysicist, explorer Sheldon Breiner dies at 82

 
Sheldon Breiner, a geophysicist, open space advocate, photographer and well-loved member of his community, was photographed on Longspur Road at Portola Valley Ranch on Nov. 12, 2015, by Michelle Le.

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.

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Comments

9 people like this
Posted by Danna
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Nov 4, 2019 at 12:48 pm

I thought he was invincible! that’s why this loss is crushing. Shelly’s energy, enthusiasm, pure fun, love of life will be sorely missed for our whole town.


6 people like this
Posted by Friend
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Nov 4, 2019 at 2:31 pm

Shelly was one of a kind---the enthusiasm and energy he brought to everything he did made even the most boring or innocuous activities exciting. A man of so many interests and accomplishments, and a fabulous friend and neighbor. We love you, Shelly. Hope you are entertaining a large, captive audience in Heaven!


4 people like this
Posted by Dave
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 4, 2019 at 3:53 pm

Sheldon was also a member of The Explorers Club, a group based in NYC whose membership includes Sir Edmund Hillary, Dian Fossey and Buzz Aldrin. He didn’t make a big deal of it when talking about himself, but it was a big deal.

He had projects going on in recent years that he could not talk about due to their government classification.

His was a many splendored life.


5 people like this
Posted by Birdnscrap
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Nov 4, 2019 at 7:43 pm

Birdnscrap is a registered user.

I remember him taking my son's class at Corte Madera School on an earthquake hike. He had them stand with on foot on the North American plate and one foot on the Pacific plate. The kids and parents were amazed. His enthusiasm was contagious, and he was willing to take the time to share it with everyone in the community. Portola Valley lost a great treasure.


2 people like this
Posted by Doug Crice
a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2019 at 5:02 am

Sheldon's life got a nice write-up in the New York Times

Web Link

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2 people like this
Posted by Geoff Baldwin
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Nov 5, 2019 at 10:34 am

I recall about 10 or so years ago Shelly was leading a group of us neighbors on a hike along the fault trace. He had us quietly sneaking into some private property to check out a fault offset across a brick staircase. One of the more perceptive of the local matrons remarked, "His mother must have found him a real handful."


Like this comment
Posted by Michael Von der Porten
a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2019 at 6:00 pm

Sheldon was a key member of the team working on the Manila
galleon wreck off Baja California.

The identification of San Felipe was changed when further
information on the fate of the San Felipe was found in
archives.

The identification of the wreck is now San Juanillo of
1578.

There is a book out about the wreck and explorations which
include quite a bit about Sheldon: Ghost Galleon.


Like this comment
Posted by Michael Von der Porten
a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2019 at 6:04 pm

Sheldon was a key member of the team working on the Manila galleon wreck off Baja California. The identification of San Felipe was changed when further
information on the fate of the San Felipe was found in archives. The identification of the wreck is now San Juanillo of 1578. There is a book out about the wreck and explorations which include quite a bit about Sheldon: Ghost Galleon.


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