Biography of Kenneth S. Pitzer

Kenneth S. Pitzer was born in Pomona, California, in 1914. He received his B.S. in 1935 from Caltech and his Ph.D. in chemistry from UC Berkeley just two years later. He was immediately appointed to the faculty of the Department of Chemistry at Berkeley, where he spent most of his distinguished career.

Professor Pitzer took leave to serve in Washington, D.C., during World War II and again from 1949 to 1951, when he was Director of Research for the Atomic Energy Commission. Upon returning to Berkeley, he was appointed Dean of the College of Chemistry, a position that he held until 1960. His leadership and vision during this period and his insightful guidance in following decades have greatly enhanced chemistry at Berkeley. He subsequently became President first of Rice University (1961-1968) and then of Stanford University (1969-1971). In 1971, he returned to Berkeley, becoming Professor Emeritus in 1984.

Professor Pitzer was the founder of modern theoretical chemistry at Berkeley. He not only used quantum and statistical mechanics to explain the thermodynamic and conformational properties of molecules, but he also pioneered quantum scattering theory for describing chemical reactions at the most fundamental level. He also made contributions to relativistic effects in chemical bonding and the theory of fluids and electrolyte solutions.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences, he served on the President’s Service Advisory Committee from 1965 to 1968. His many awards included 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 Awards. At Berkeley, he received the Alumnus of the Year Award, the Clark Kerr Medal, and the Berkeley Citation.

The Pitzer Center honors this illustrious scientist, educator, administrator, public servant, and philanthropist. It was made possible in large part by gifts from his widow, the late Jean Mosher Pitzer, and from the Pitzer Family Foundation.

For more information, please check out the excellent biography by Robert Curl for the National Academy of Science.