Clifford Mendel


Mr. Clifford William Mendel, beloved husband and father, passed away on Feb. 29, 2024, at the age of 87 in Walnut Creek, Calif., with his wife, Joyce, by his side.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Aug. 27, 1936, Cliff’s journey was marked by a love for science and engineering from an early age. As a boy he set up a makeshift chemistry laboratory in his parents’ basement in Urbana, Ill. and was fascinated by the workings of his electric train set.

Cliff earned his doctorate in physics at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana in 1966. It was there that he met the love of his life, Joyce Lenora Burkhardt. Cliff and Joyce were married on Aug. 22, 1964, and spent the next 59 years raising three children and exploring life together.

After completing his doctorate, Cliff embarked on a distinguished career as a physicist, beginning at Bell Labs in Princeton, N.J. and later joining Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M. There he made significant contributions to the fields of pulsed power and plasma physics, earning him recognition as a leading authority in his field. His achievements include pioneering experiments using plasma opening switches to generate high-power charged particle beams.

He is also known around the world for his impact on the conceptual and in-depth understanding of magnetic insulation. Such understanding is required for operation of multi-terawatt pulse powered systems such as the Z Machine at Sandia Labs, used to test materials in conditions of extreme pressure.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Cliff was among a select group of scientists to visit Russia in a collaborative effort between Russian and American scientists to help the former Soviet Union transition its defense-oriented technologies, including pulsed power, to civilian industries.

Cliff had friendly relations with everyone at Sandia: janitors, students, technologists, staff members, and managers. He was quick to credit the work of engineers and technologists, calling them the true heart of Sandia. He retired from Sandia Laboratories in 1996 but continued to share his expertise as a consultant.

Outside of his professional pursuits, Cliff was a man of diverse interests and talents. He indulged his love for speed and mechanics by racing sports cars before transitioning to the more family-friendly hobby of building and sailing boats. He built a sailboat in his garage in Albuquerque, which the family enjoyed on trips to Elephant Butte, Cochiti, and Heron Lakes. He went on to build four more boats, including two sea kayaks.

In 1980 he took a memorable journey across Greece by bicycle with a friend. Seven times over the course of 20 years he served as president of the Albuquerque Wildlife Federation, an organization committed to improving wildlife habitat.

Following his retirement, Cliff and Joyce split their time between the Eastern Shore of Virginia and New Mexico. Cliff’s love for small boats and the quiet coves of the Chesapeake Bay had been ignited during a family visit to the Eastern Shore. In Virginia, he and Joyce explored the Chesapeake Bay area by land and boat. He pursued his love of woodworking, crafting four banjos and numerous pieces of furniture. He also supported the local music scene and assisted in the founding of the Orchestra of the Eastern Shore, serving as its treasurer.

Cliff will be remembered not only for his remarkable intellect and professional achievements but also for his kindness, humor, and commitment to his family and community.

He is survived by his loving wife, Joyce Burkhardt Mendel, and three children, David Blair Mendel (spouse, Jennifer Hall), of Walnut Creek, Calif., Gregory Alan Mendel (spouse, Lisa Heath), of Hobart, Wash., and Susan Marie Mendel (spouse, James Cooley), of Los Alamos, N.M. He is also survived by his younger sister, Nancy Whitlatch, of Grand Junction, Colo., and six grandchildren, Gretchen Mendel, Caroline Mendel, Shay Heath, Rory Cooley, Taran Cooley, and Aidan Cooley.

He was preceded in death by his father, Clifford William Mendel Sr., mother, Elisabeth Hand Evans Mendel, and older sister, Elisabeth Gayle Mendel.

The family asks that people who have special memories of Cliff send those memories to Joyce for inclusion in a book of memories.

Should friends desire, contributions may be made to the Volgenau Virginia Coastal Reserve (VVCR) in Cliff’s memory. To learn more about the VVCR, visit To donate, please make checks payable to “The Nature Conservancy Virginia” and include “VVCR fund” in the memo line. Also include a note that the donation is in memory of Clifford Mendel. The VVCR mailing address is The Nature Conservancy, Attn: Alex Rich, P.O. Box 158, Nassawadox, VA 23413.

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