Pimentel, George C.

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Born on May 2, 1922, in Rolinda, CA, George. Pimentel received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1943. After a year working on the Manhattan Project at UC Berkeley and more than two years in the Navy, he returned to Berkeley to complete his graduate work. After earning his PhD in 1949, Dr. Pimentel joined the faculty at Berkeley and ten years later attained the rank of professor. From 1966 to 1968 he served as the Chair of the Chemistry Department. He served on the UC Select Committee on Education in 1965-1966. He was a member of the Lunar and Planetary Missions Board, an advisory unit to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), from 1967-1970 and a member of the National Academy's Committee on Science and Public Policy from 1975-1977. From July 1977 to June 1980, he served as Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation. In 1980 he assumed directorship of the Laboratory of Chemical Biodynamics, a division of the Lawrence Berkeley (National) Laboratory, and served until 1988. Dr. Pimentel was elected President of the American Chemical Society, serving in 1986. He spoke and wrote frequently and effectively as an advocate of basic research, scientific literacy, improvement of the public image of chemistry, and the value of the university. Dr. Pimentel died of cancer in his home in Kensington, CA in 1989.

Research contributions

Dr. Pimentel's research was in the fields of infrared spectroscopy, chemical lasers, molecular structure, free radicals, and hydrogen bonding. His interests centered on the application of spectroscopic methods to the study of unusual chemical bonding. A major contribution was the development and exploitation of the matrix isolation method for the spectroscopic detection of highly unstable molecules. Application of this matrix isolation method let to the discovery of many unusual and highly reactive molecules that could not otherwise have been detected.

Space research

Dr. Pimentel's pioneering development of rapid scan techniques for infrared spectroscopy extended to the gas phase these spectroscopic studies of normally transient species. This work led to the design of a unique infrared spectrometer for the 1969 Mariner spacecraft that flew by Mars in 1969 to determine the composition of its atmosphere and surface..

Chemical lasers

During studies of photochemical reactions, Dr. Pimentel and his student Jerome Kasper discovered the first chemically pumped laser. Flash photolysis methods on the microsecond time scale permitted the measurement, through laser emissions, of nascent population inversions produced in the normal course of a chemical reaction. A variety of chemically pumped vibrational and rotational lasers have been discovered in his laboratory, providing valuable state-to-state kinetic information.

Teaching and writing

An enthusiastic teacher, Dr. Pimentel lectured in freshman chemistry throughout his career at Berkeley. He chaired the committee appointed by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences to identify for Congress prime areas for research in the chemical sciences. The report, Opportunities in Chemistry, (aka The Pimentel Report ) was released by the Academy in 1985 and revised in 1987 for a broader audience. Dr. Pimentel was always concerned with the quality of teaching in secondary schools and was editor of the CHEM Study project which was devoted to the development of an innovative high school chemistry textbook, titled Chemistry-An Experimental Science . He also collaborated in the production of several educational films, including one which concerns the impact of science on the quality of life. His name is listed in Outstanding Educators of America. In 1958, Dr. Pimentel received the campus Teaching Award at UC Berkeley on the basis of student nominations and evaluations. He received and was nominated for many other teaching and industry awards throughout his career. The ACS Award in Chemical Education, which he won posthumously in 1990, is now known as the George C. Pimentel Award.

From the guide to the George C. Pimentel papers, 1880-1990, bulk 1939-1990, (The Bancroft Library)

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Birth 1922-05-02

Death 1989-06-18




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