Seitz, Frederick 1911-2008

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Seitz, Frederick 1911-2008


See index for CA sketch: Born July 4, 1911, in San Francisco, CA; died March 2, 2008, in New York, NY. Physicist, educator, administrator, and author. Seitz was a pioneer in the field of solid state physics (now known as condensed matter physics), the study of solid substances in bulk, rather than at the atomic or molecular level. His groundbreaking research in the 1930s paved the way for the development of the transistors that revolutionized the age of technology. Seitz taught physics at major U.S. universities, from the University of Rochester in 1935 to the University of Illinois in 1965. He was the president of Rockefeller University from 1968 to 1978, serving concurrently as the execu- tive president of the National Academy of Sciences. Seitz was involved with many research facilities, including the Clinton Laboratories of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Desert Research Institute, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and (as cofounder) the George C. Marshall Institute. All of this occurred before Seitz became a very vocal and controversial spokesperson on health and the environment. In the 1970s, while at Rockefeller University, Seitz was responsible for huge amounts of research money from tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds and, though he never denied that smoking tobacco products was a dangerous health hazard, he remained skeptical of the danger posed by secondhand smoke. In the 1980s Seitz turned his attention to climate change, forcefully denying that human activity causes global warming and that chlorofluorocarbons threaten the ozone layer that protects the earth from ultraviolet light rays. Despite his contrarian stance on medical and environmental issues, Seitz was honored for his contributions to theoretical physics. He was awarded a National Medal of Sciences, the Karl Taylor Compton Award of the American Institute of Physics, the Vannevar Bush Award of the National Science Board, a public service award from the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Joseph Henry Medal of the Smithsonian Institution, among other prizes. Seitz's writings include scientific treatises, including the highly regarded text The Modern Theory of Solids (1940) and several less-scholarly offerings, such as Scientific Perspectives of the Greenhouse Problem (1990), The Science Matrix: The Journey, Travails, Triumphs (1992), and Electronic Genie: The Tangled History of Silicon (1998).



Seitz, Frederick, On the Frontier: My Life in Science, American Institute of Physics (Woodbury, NY), 1994.


Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2008, p. B9.

Times (London, England), March 11, 2008, p. 71.

Washington Post, March 6, 2008, p. B6.