Richard Jackson Berkley was born in January 20, 1928, in Marshalltown, Iowa. He was the only son of Melvin P. and Lillian Berkley who also had an older daughter Barbara. Melvin was a banker. Berkley completed high school in Marshalltown and then attended Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, where he studied mathematics and statistics. Following graduation in 1950, he took "the best job offered me, a welder's helper on a pipeline in Laurel, MS." He followed the pipeline construction across the South and Southwest, eventually enrolling in the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology where he studied geophysics. In June 1955 he submitted his master's thesis, "Modification of a Magnetic Airborne Detector (AN/ASQ-1A) for Use in Geophysical Prospecting." Hearing of the planned International Geophysical Year (IGY) expedition to Antarctica, he successfully applied and was appointed geo-magnetician. He trained at the Geomagnetic Observatory in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The expedition travelled by ship to Antarctica and established its operation on a penguin rookery at Wilkes Station in January 1957. Berkley made many magnetic measurements during the ensuing winter. He was a popular member of the expedition evidenced by the naming of Berkley Island after him.
Returning to the U.S, Berkley enrolled in the physics graduate program at Florida State University. He worked in the nuclear physics program under Professor Alex Green. When Professor Green moved to the University of Florida, Berkley switched to the graduate program in Science Education. In April 1962, he married Suzanne Gunderson in Tallahassee, Florida. Before completing his degree, he decided to accept a faculty position in physics at the University of South Florida, where he remained until his death on November 17, 1987. He was survived by his wife, Suzanne and a son, Jon (now deceased) and a daughter, Jennifer.