NEWS RELEASE, 01/08/98

Memorial service Jan. 25 for the late Kenneth Pitzer, former chemistry dean at UC Berkeley and past president of Rice and Stanford Universities

by Robert Sanders

BERKELEY -- A memorial service will be held Jan. 25 for Kenneth Sanborn Pitzer, a former dean of the College of Chemistry at UC Berkeley and past president of Rice and Stanford Universities who died Dec. 26.

The memorial service is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 25, at 2 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Faculty Club on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.

Pitzer died of heart failure after a brief illness at Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley.

The 83-year-old Pitzer had a long history at UC Berkeley, beginning in 1935 when he came to work on his Ph.D. in chemistry, until his retirement as professor emeritus of chemistry in 1984.

In between he left to head Rice University in Houston as its president for eight years (1961-68), and subsequently served briefly as president of Stanford University (1968-70).

A member and past chairman of the National Academy of Sciences, he was well known for his work in physical and theoretical chemistry, beginning in the 1930s when he used the then-new theory of quantum mechanics to explain and predict how molecules rotate and interact.

"He was a world-class physical chemist who did exceptional work on the theory of predicting the thermodynamic properties of molecules," said Alexis T. Bell, dean of UC Berkeley's College of Chemistry. "He was particularly known for his work in strong saline solutions, which has tremendous fundamental research importance, and is also essential in predicting the behavior of materials used in industrial processes."

Much of his early work on hydrocarbons was of great interest to the oil industry, while his later work on saline solutions has importance for the geothermal industry.

"The one theme running through his research was understanding the structure of molecules and their bonding and chemical properties," said colleague and friend Robert E. Connick, professor emeritus of chemistry at UC Berkeley.

Pitzer also served his country as technical director of the Maryland Research Laboratory during World War II, and as director of research at the Atomic Energy Commission from 1949 until 1951. In addition he served on the General Advisory Committee of the AEC from 1958 to 1965, and for two years as committee chairman (1960-62).

During his years with the AEC he guided the national laboratories into their peacetime roles with the AEC, and established a program of AEC support of relevant basic research at universities and other laboratories around the country.

As dean of the College of Chemistry from 1951 to 1960 he led the effort to provide modern laboratory facilities to accommodate postwar expansion in the college's program, and played a key role in establishing chemical engineering as a department. He succeeded in obtaining state support for construction of two new chemistry buildings, Latimer and Hildebrand Halls, both built in the 1960s.

His tenure at Rice was marked by two major successes: obtaining court approval to remove racial restrictions for admission to the historically all-white university, and approval to begin charging tuition. The university experienced rapid growth during his presidency, as the number of faculty increased by 50 percent and the undergraduate student body rose by one-third.

"(When he was) president of Rice, I was most impressed by his ability to envision far in advance how events would develop," said Robert F. Curl Jr., professor of chemistry at Rice and a 1996 Nobel laureate who obtained his Ph.D. under Pitzer at UC Berkeley and later worked with him at Rice. "He did a great deal for Rice in terms of bringing the university to the status of a leading institution."

Such success eluded him at Stanford, where he ran afoul of violent student protests against the Vietnam War. He resigned after two years to return to his research at UC Berkeley.

He was honored with more than a dozen awards in his lifetime, including the National Medal of Science in 1975, the Priestley Memorial Medal of the American Chemical Society in 1969, the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Chemists in 1976 and the Berkeley Citation in 1984. He also held honorary degrees from UC Berkeley, Wesleyan University and Mills College in Oakland, Calif.

In addition he was a life trustee of Pitzer College, one of The Claremont Colleges of Claremont, Calif. His father, Russell K. Pitzer, was a leader in the development of the Claremont Colleges, helping found Harvey Mudd, Claremont Men's College and Pitzer College. Over the past 31 years Kenneth Pitzer provided generous and continuing support for a number of programs and scholarships at Pitzer College, including several named professorships and scholarship funds.

On the UC Berkeley campus he was honored in 1994 with the naming of a large lecture hall as the Kenneth S. Pitzer Auditorium. It is located in Latimer Hall, named after Pitzer's early mentor, chemist Wendell Latimer.

Born Jan. 6, 1914, in Pomona, Calif., Pitzer grew up amidst his father's orange groves, leaving in 1931 to attend the California Institute of Technology, from which he obtained his B.S. in chemistry in 1935. Two years later he completed his Ph.D. in chemistry at UC Berkeley and became an instructor in the Department of Chemistry. He eventually achieved the rank of full professor, and served as dean of the College of Chemistry from 1951 until 1961, when he left for Rice University.

He returned to UC Berkeley in 1971, and continued his research even after he retired in 1984. Nearly half of his scientific publications date from the past 26 years at UC Berkeley.

The enthusiasm with which he engaged in research was reflected in his leisure activities, highlighted by his avocation for sailing. He designed and constructed several boats, and was licensed by the Coast Guard as a boat designer and builder.

Pitzer is survived by his wife 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, Va.; and five grandchildren.

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