William O. Baker, 90, a former president of Bell Labs who advised U.S. presidents on intelligence gathering and oversaw researchers who won back-to-back Nobel prizes, including for work underpinning the big-bang theory of the origin of the universe, died Oct. 31 at a nursing home in Chatham, N.J. He had respiratory failure.
Mr. Baker headed Bell Labs from 1973 to 1979, when its scientists won two Nobels in physics. In 1977, the lab's Phillip W. Anderson was a co-winner with two other scientists for theoretical research involving the electronic structure of magnetic systems, work that underlies many later technical developments in electronics.
The next year, two Bell Lab scientists -- Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson -- shared the Nobel in physics for discovering faint background radiation in space believed to be left over from the big bang, a massive explosion of a super-dense point billions of years ago that most astronomers believe created the universe.
Earlier in his career, Mr. Baker served as an adviser on science and foreign intelligence to presidents from Harry S. Truman to Gerald R. Ford, primarily on the use of computers, satellite reconnaissance and other technology for intelligence gathering.
In 1959, at President Dwight D. Eisenhower's request, Mr. Baker created a plan to set up the Defense Communications Agency, implemented under President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Mr. Baker was a member of the President's Science Advisory Committee and the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board for decades.
William Oliver Baker was a native of Chestertown, Md., and a chemistry graduate of Princeton University. In 1938, he joined the Bell Labs technical staff.
Over the next decades, he headed up polymer research and was assistant director of chemical and metallurgical research, becoming vice president of research in 1955.
He retired in 1980 but continued serving as an adviser to foundations, government and academic institutions, according to Lucent Technologies. Bell Labs is now the research arm of Lucent.
His wife, Frances Burrill Baker, whom he married in 1941, died in 1999.
Survivors include a son, Joseph Baker, of Morristown, N.J.