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Kenneth Pitzer

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Kenneth S. Pitzer
Kenneth Sanborn Pitzer
3rd President of Rice University
In office
Preceded byWilliam Vermillion Houston
Succeeded byNorman Hackerman
6th President of Stanford University
In office
December 1, 1968[1] – June 25, 1970[2]
Preceded byWallace Sterling
Succeeded byRichard Wall Lyman
Personal details
Born(1914-01-06)January 6, 1914
Pomona, California, U.S.
DiedDecember 26, 1997(1997-12-26) (aged 83)
Berkeley, California, U.S.
ChildrenRussell M. Pitzer
Alma materCalifornia Institute of Technology (BS)
University of California, Berkeley (PhD)
AwardsACS Award in Pure Chemistry (1943)
Priestley Medal (1969)
National Medal of Science (1975)
American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal (1976)
Welch Award in Chemistry (1984)
Scientific career
ThesisTheoretical calculations and experimental determinations of entropies and related thermodynamic quantities (1937)
Doctoral advisorWendell Latimer
Doctoral studentsGeorge C. Pimentel
Oktay Sinanoğlu
Robert Curl
Raymond Sheline

Kenneth Sanborn Pitzer (January 6, 1914 – December 26, 1997) was an American physical and theoretical chemist, educator, and university president.[3] He was described as "one of the most influential physical chemists of his era" whose work "spanned almost all of the important fields of physical chemistry: thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, molecular structure, quantum mechanics, spectroscopy, chemical bonding, relativistic chemical effects, properties of concentrated aqueous salt solutions, kinetics, and conformational analysis."[4]


Pitzer received his B.S. in 1935 from the California Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1937.[5] Upon graduation, he was appointed to the faculty of UC Berkeley's chemistry department and was eventually elevated to professor. From 1951 to 1960, he served as dean of the College of Chemistry.

Pitzer was the third president of Rice University from 1961 until 1968 and sixth president of Stanford University from 1969 until 1971. His tenure at Stanford was turbulent due to student protests.[6] Worn out by the confrontations, he announced his resignation in 1970 after a 19-month tenure. He returned to UC Berkeley in 1971. He retired in 1984, but continued research until his death.

Pitzer was director of research for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission from 1949 to 1951 and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.[7] He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1954 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1958.[8][9]

As a scientist, Pitzer was known for his work on the thermodynamic properties of molecules.[10][11][12] While still a graduate student he discovered that hydrocarbon molecules do not rotate unhindered around their C-C bonds. There is in fact a barrier to internal rotation, an important discovery upsetting the conventional wisdom and affecting the thermodynamic properties of hydrocarbons.[4] Some of his work is summed up in the Pitzer equations describing the behavior of ions dissolved in water.[4] During his long career he won many awards, most notably the National Medal of Science and the Priestley Medal. The Ohio Supercomputing System named their new cluster Pitzer in honour of Kenneth Pitzer.[13]

In the public hearing that led to the revocation of Robert Oppenheimer's security clearance, Pitzer testified about his policy differences with Oppenheimer concerning the development of thermonuclear weapons.[14]

Personal life[edit]

Pitzer's father, Russell K. Pitzer, founded Pitzer College, one of the five Claremont Colleges in California. His son, Russell M. Pitzer is also a notable chemist who is currently retired from the faculty at Ohio State University.

See also[edit]


  • Rossini, Frederick D.; Pitzer, Kenneth S.; Arnett, Raymond L.; Braun, Rita M.; Pimentel, George C. (1953). Selected Values of Physical and Thermodynamic Properties of Hydrocarbons and Related Compounds: Comprising the Tables of the American Petroleum Institute Research Project 44 Extant as of December 31, 1952. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Press.
  • Pitzer, Kenneth S. (1953). Quantum Chemistry. New York: Prentice-Hall.
  • Pitzer, Kenneth S. (1995). Thermodynamics (third ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-050221-8. With acknowledgment to Gilbert Newton Lewis and Merle Randall, authors of the first edition, and to Leo Brewer, coauthor of the second edition.


  1. ^ "3 Do-Overs from Stanford History". Stanford Magazine. July 1, 2016. Retrieved December 1, 2023.
  2. ^ "President of Stanford Resigns After 2 Years of Disturbances". The New York Times. June 26, 1970. Retrieved December 1, 2023.
  3. ^ Hughes, Sally Smith; Leberge, Germaine, eds. (1999). "Chemist and Administrator at UC Berkeley, Rice University, and Stanford University, and the Atomic Energy Commission, 1935-1997". Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
  4. ^ a b c E. Connick, Robert E. Connick (December 2000). "Kenneth Pitzer, 6 January 1914 · 26 December 1997". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 14 (4): 479–483. JSTOR 1515624.
  5. ^ Pitzer, Kenneth S. (1937). Theoretical calculations and experimental determinations of entropies and related thermodynamic quantities (Ph.D.). University of California, Berkeley. OCLC 843405035 – via ProQuest.
  6. ^ "Former Stanford president, renowned chemist Ken Pitzer, dies" Archived 2019-10-15 at the Wayback Machine, Stanford University, January 6, 1998
  7. ^ National Academy of Sciences memoir Archived 2010-06-29 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2023-01-24.
  9. ^ "Kenneth Sanborn Pitzer". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2023-01-24.
  10. ^ Curl, Robert F.; Gwinn, William D. (1990). "Biography of Kenneth S. Pitzer". J. Phys. Chem. 94 (20): 7743–7753. doi:10.1021/j100383a001.
  11. ^ Pitzer, Kenneth S., ed. (1993). Molecular Structure and Statistical Thermodynamics: Selected Papers of Kenneth S. Pitzer. World Scientific Series in 20th Century Chemistry. Vol. 1. Singapore: World Scientific. ISBN 981-02-1439-1.
  12. ^ Rard, Joseph A. (1999). "Memorial Tribute Kenneth Sanborn Pitzer 1914-1997". Journal of Solution Chemistry. 28 (4): 247–264. doi:10.1023/A:1022619709105. S2CID 189864882.
  13. ^ "Ohio Supercomputer Center - Pitzer".
  14. ^ In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer: Transcript of Hearing Before Personnel Security Board. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. 1954. pp. 697–709.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by President of Rice University
Succeeded by
Preceded by President of Stanford University
Succeeded by