William B. Bridges was born in Inglewood, California in 1934. In high school his hobby was (and still is) amateur radio. He attended the University of California at Berkeley and received a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. (’62) in electrical engineering.
Bridges joined the Hughes Research Laboratories division of the Hughes Aircraft Co. in 1961 where he worked briefly on microwave vacuum tubes, then gas lasers. He discovered and patented the noble gas (argon, Krypton, xenon) ion laser in 1964. He worked on many projects using lasers: an airborne night reconnaissance system (AN/AVD-3), space communications systems, early high power laser weapons (the carbon dioxide gas dynamic laser, now extinct), and hydrogen maser clocks for global positioning systems.
In 1977 Bridges became professor of electrical engineering and applied physics at Caltech. Six years later he named Carl F. Braun Professor of Engineering. He has continued his research in various areas of electro-optical devices and applications including: millimeter-wave dielectric waveguides, optical isotope separation, acousto-optic spectroscopy, and waveguide gas lasers.
Bridges is a fellow of IEEE, OSA, and LIA. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. He has served as a member of the USAF Scientific Advisory Board, was on the Board of Directors of Uniphase Corporation (now JDS Uniphase) and is a consultant at the Hughes Research Laboratories.