He earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Utah in 1944, and upon graduating was selected to work at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee as part of the Manhattan Project, the research and development project that produced the first atomic bombs during World War II.
In 1950, Quate entered the doctoral program at Stanford, and later joined the technical research staff at Bell Telephone Laboratories, where he worked in microwaves. He later became associate director of electronics research at the facility.
In 1959, he began working at Sandia Corporation, and was appointed vice president and director of research there the following year.
In 1961, he joined Stanford's faculty as a professor of applied physics and electrical engineering, a department he remained in for the rest of his career.
While at Stanford he served as department chair from 1969 to 1972 and from 1978 to 1981; from 1972 to 1974, he was associate dean in the School of Humanities and Sciences. He also chaired the department of electrical engineering from 1986 to 1988, according to the university.
In the mid-1980s, he worked with collaborators from IBM to introduce the atomic force microscope, which enabled the detection of previously imperceptible details in the surfaces of solid materials. He also created the scanning acoustic microscope in 1978, which used high-frequency sound waves to apply gentle pressure to objects under observation, allowing for new measurements of the internal structures, density, elasticity and viscosity of living cells without harming them.
Former dean of the School of Engineering Jim Gibbons summarized Quate's approach to the work he did at the university: "His position on most matters of academic administration can be stated in two short sentences: 'Do we need to do this?' or 'I'll do it.' I felt honored to know him and I will miss him greatly."
Bob Byer, photon science professor and longtime colleague of Quate's, shared with the Stanford News Service his memory that Quate had left a drawing of the microscope's schematic, with notes, on a blackboard before the invention was complete. Byer also recalled Quate at one point shouting, "It works!" when the microscope started functioning.
During his career, Quate earned the National Medal of Science, the Kavli Prize, the Rank Prize for Opto-Electronics and the Medal of Honor from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He was also elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1970, the National Academy of Sciences in 1975 and Britain's Royal Society in 1995, and was named "Scientist of the Year" in R&D Magazine.
According to Byer, Quate was affable and soft-spoken, and offered opinions gently and only when asked.
"Cal was a special man," he said. "He earned respect with very few words."
Quate is survived by his wife of 23 years, Arnice Pearl Streit, a former associate dean of finance at Stanford's School of Humanities and Sciences.
He is also survived by daughters Robin Rain, Rozwin Liera, Holly Quate and Rhoda Quate, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, plus three of Streit's children from a previous marriage: Chris Guerrini, Carol Bauer and Richard Streit. His first wife, Dorothy (Marshall) Quate, died in 2017.
The family has planned a private remembrance and asks that memorial donations in Quate's name go to Stanford's department of applied physics or department of electric engineering.
A Stanford memorial service is being planned; details will be announced when they are available.
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