Kenneth Pitzer

Kenneth S. Pitzer

Kenneth Sanborn Pitzer
Third President of Rice University
In office
Preceded by William Vermillion Houston
Succeeded by Norman Hackerman
Sixth President of Stanford University
In office
Preceded by Wallace Sterling
Succeeded by Richard W. Lyman
Personal details
Born (1914-01-06)January 6, 1914
Pomona, California
Died December 26, 1997(1997-12-26) (aged 83)
Berkeley, California
Alma mater California Institute of Technology, University of California, Berkeley
Awards ACS Award in Pure Chemistry (1943);Priestley Medal (1969);National Medal of Science (1975);American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal (1976)

Kenneth Sanborn Pitzer (January 6, 1914 December 26, 1997) was an American physical and theoretical chemist, educator, and university president.[1] 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."[2]


He received his B.S. in 1935 from the California Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1937. 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.

He 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.[3] 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.

He was Director of Research for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission from 1949 to 1951 and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.[4]

As a scientist he was known for his work on the thermodynamic properties of molecules.[5][6][7] 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.[2] Some of his work is summed up in the Pitzer equations describing the behavior of ions dissolved in water.[2] During his long career he won many awards, most notably the National Medal of Science and the Priestley Medal.

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

In the public hearing that led to the revocation of Robert Oppenheimer's security clearance, Kenneth Pitzer testified about his policy differences with Oppenheimer concerning the development of thermonuclear weapons.[8]

See also

Pitzer equations

Pitzer Strain [9]



  1. Hughes, Sally Smith; Leberge, Germaine, eds. (1999). Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. Kenneth Sanborn Pitzer "Chemist and Administrator at UC Berkeley, Rice University, and Stanford University, and the Atomic Energy Commission, 1935-1997," an oral history conducted in 1996-1998 Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. 1 2 3 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.
  3. "Former Stanford president, renowned chemist Ken Pitzer, dies", Stanford University, January 6, 1998
  4. National Academy of Sciences memoir
  5. Curl, Robert F.; Gwinn, William D. (1990). "Biography of Kenneth S. Pitzer". J. Phys. Chem. 94 (20): 7743–7753. doi:10.1021/j100383a001.
  6. Pitzer, Kenneth S., ed. (1993). Molecular Structure and Statistical Thermodynamics: Selected Papers of Kenneth S. Pitzer. World Scientific Series in 20th Century Chemistry. 1. Singapore: World Scientific. ISBN 981-02-1439-1.
  7. Rard, Joseph A. (1999). "Memorial Tribute Kenneth Sanborn Pitzer 1914-1997". Journal of Solution Chemistry. 28 (4): 247–264. doi:10.1023/A:1022619709105.
  8. 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.
  9. Gold Book Link
Academic offices
Preceded by
William Vermillion Houston
President of Rice University
Succeeded by
Norman Hackerman
Preceded by
Wallace Sterling
President of Stanford University
Succeeded by
Richard W. Lyman
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