Pitzer, Kenneth S. (Kenneth Sanborn), 1914-1997

Alternative names
Birth 1914-01-06
Death 1997-12-26

Biographical notes:

Kenneth S. Pitzer was a Chemistry professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Pitzer also served as the Director of Research for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (1949-1951), president of Rice University (1961-1968), president of Stanford University (1968-1970) and a trustee at several colleges including Pitzer College.

From the description of Kenneth S. Pitzer papers, 1915-2000 (bulk 1930-1997). (University of California, Berkeley). WorldCat record id: 150411481

Sixth president of Stanford University, December 1968 to September 1, 1970.

From the description of Kenneth Pitzer papers, 1968-1980 (inclusive), 1968-1970 (bulk). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702129518

For each incoming Rice president, an Inaugural Committee is formed which works with the Board of Governors and the President's Office to plan the numerous presidential welcoming events and celebrations. After the inauguration, the committee is released from duty.

The university's semi-centennial was officially celebrated in 1962, fifty years after the opening of the Rice Institute (Oct., 1912). The centennial will be celebrated in 2012.

From the guide to the Rice University Semicentennial and Inauguration of President Kenneth S. Pitzer, Rice UA 097., 1961-63, (Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University, Houston, TX)

Biographical/Historical Sketch

Sixth president of Stanford University, December 1968 to September 1, 1970.

From the guide to the Kenneth Pitzer papers, 1968-1980, 1968-1970, (Department of Special Collections and University Archives)

Biographical Information

Kenneth S. Pitzer was born in Pomona, California on January 6, 1914, the son of noted philanthropists Russell K. and Flora Pitzer. He attended the California Institute of Technology, where he received a B.S. in chemistry in 1935 and completed his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley in 1937 under the direction of distinguished chemist Wendell M. Latimer.

In 1935 Pitzer married Jean (Mosher) Pitzer. They had three children: Anne E. Pitzer, Russell M. Pitzer, and John S. Pitzer.

After graduation, Pitzer was appointed to the faculty of the U.C. Berkeley College of Chemistry, where he spent the better part of his career serving first as Instructor from 1937-1939, Assistant Professor from 1939-1942, Associate Professor from 1942-1945 and finally as Professor from 1945-1961. He was also Dean of the College of Chemistry from 1951-1960.

During World War II Pitzer took a leave of absence from teaching and went to work for the United States Government first as consultant for the National Defense Research Committee, Office of Scientific Research Development, where he researched meteorology for the U.S. Army. As Technical Director of the Maryland Research Laboratory from 1943-1945, Pitzer developed time delay devices which were used to disrupt rail systems in Germany. From 1949-1951, he again left Berkeley to serve as Director of Research for the Atomic Energy Commission. In addition, he served on the President's Science Advisory Committee from 1965-1968.

In 1961, Pitzer became president of Rice University in Houston, Texas and left in 1968 to assume the presidency of Stanford University until 1970. In 1971 he returned to Berkeley where he served for 13 more years becoming Emeritus Professor in 1984. Pitzer also served as trustee for many colleges including Mills College, Harvey Mudd College, and Pitzer College, founded by and named for his father. In the last decades of his life, he provided continuing support for Pitzer College endowing several scholarships and professorships.

In addition to teaching, Pitzer authored several books including Thermodynamics and Quantum Chemistry, which he co-authored with Leo Brewer. Over the course of his career, he published over 350 articles in various scientific journals including the Journal of the American Chemical Society for which he also Pitzer served as Associate Editor from 1944-1945.

For many years, Pitzer worked as a consultant in the private sector, serving on the board of directors for the American Petroleum Institute, Union Carbide Corporation, United States Rubber Company, the Rand Corporation, and Owens- Illinois.

Among the numerous awards and fellowships he received during his career were a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Clark Kerr Award, the Priestly Medal of the Chemical Society, the Berkeley Citation, and the Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry. In 1974 Pitzer was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Gerald R. Ford.

Professor Pitzer retired from UC Berkeley in 1985, but continued his research in thermodynamics and quantum theory until his death. He died of heart failure on December 26, 1997.

From the guide to the Kenneth S. Pitzer papers, 1915-2000, bulk 1930-1997, (The Bancroft Library)


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  • University presidents--inaugurations
  • Universities and colleges--Administration
  • Thermodynamics
  • Chemistry, Physical and theoretical--Research
  • Chemists
  • Chemistry--History
  • Chemistry, Physical and theoretical


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  • United States (as recorded)