Professor Kenneth S. Pitzer

Kenneth Sanborn Pitzer died on December 26, 1997, after a brief illness. Born in Pomona, California, in 1914, in his nearly 84 years he achieved exceptional distinction as a scientist, educator, administrator, public servant, and philanthropist.

He received his B.S. in 1935 from the California Institute of Technology and earned his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley just two years later. Immediately thereafter he was appointed to the faculty of Berkeley’s Chemistry Department, where he spent most of his career. He served as Dean of the College of Chemistry during 1951-60, leading the effort to obtain state support for Latimer and Hildebrand Halls, which were built in the 1960s. He also reorganized the College into separate Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, maintaining the college structure for administrative and support services. He was an active committee member and served as chair of the Academic Senate. Professor Pitzer’s distinguished service to the University was interrupted by two leaves of absence to serve his country: From 1943-44 he was Technical Director of the Maryland Research Laboratory, whose mission was to develop and test devices for behind-the-lines warfare, and from 1949-51 he was Director of Research for the Atomic Energy Commission.

In 1961 Professor Pitzer accepted the presidency of Rice University, where he served until 1968, successfully integrating the school and instituting tuition for the first time. He then served briefly as president of Stanford University, returning to Berkeley in 1971 to resume his faculty position until becoming professor emeritus in 1984. He continued his research program at a reduced level until a week before his death. He taught many hundreds of undergraduates in addition to mentoring dozens of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

His research centered on the structure and properties of molecules, especially their thermodynamic behavior, and he was widely known early in his career for his analysis of internal rotation of groups within molecules. His research has included quantum theory and statistical mechanics as applied to chemical problems ranging from the potential restricting rotation about single bonds, to the bonding in polyatomic carbon molecules, and to the effects of relativity on chemical bonds involving very heavy atoms. In later years he was noted for his advances in the study of electrolyte solutions.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences, he was recognized with many awards, including the National Medal of Science, the Priestley Medal of the American Chemical Society, the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Chemists, and the Robert A. Welch Award. He was a life trustee of Pitzer College, which he helped his father found, and which he generously supported for several decades. He and his wife were also major contributors to the graduate program and research facilities at Berkeley, where he was honored with election as Alumnus of the Year, the Clark Kerr Medal, the Berkeley Citation, and the naming of Pitzer Auditorium in Latimer Hall.

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Jean (Mosher) Pitzer of Kensington; three children, Ann E. Pitzer of San Diego, Russell M. Pitzer of Columbus, Ohio, and John S. Pitzer of McLean, Virginia; and five grandchildren.