REMEMBERING FREDERICK SEITZ, 1911-2008
Frederick Seitz, president emeritus of The Rockefeller University and a former president of the National Academy of Sciences, died Sunday, March 2, after a long illness. He was 96.
A distinguished physicist and educator who held key government posts for over three decades, Seitz received the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest award in science, in 1973 for his contributions “to the foundation of the modern quantum theory of the solid state of matter.”
Seitz was appointed president of The Rockefeller University in 1968. Under his administration, new basic research programs were started in reproductive biology, cell biology, molecular biology and the neurosciences as well as new clinical investigations at the university’s research hospital. A joint M.D.-Ph.D. program in cooperation with Cornell University Medical College was initiated whereby highly qualified graduate students obtain both degrees in six years. A 1,000-acre Field Research Center for Ecology and Ethology was established at Millbrook, N.Y., where behavioral and biological scientists study a wide range of natural phenomena related to animal behavior and environmental biology.
Also during his tenure seven endowed professorships were launched, the university completed construction of several critically important buildings and the Rockefeller Archive Center in Pocantico, N.Y. was established. Seitz played a major role in launching the first development program in the institution’s history. He retired as president in 1978 and was succeeded by Joshua Lederberg. Rockefeller University awarded him an honorary doctor of science degree in 1981 and the David Rockefeller Award for Extraordinary Service to The Rockefeller University in 2000.
Seitz was born in San Francisco, California, on July 4, 1911. He received the A.B. degree in mathematics from Stanford University in 1932 and the Ph.D. degree in physics from Princeton University in 1934, where he was a postdoctoral Proctor Fellow. While at Princeton, he and his teacher, Eugene P. Wigner, developed the Wigner-Seitz method for calculating the cohesive energy of a metal, the first such calculation, based on the known properties of the atoms involved.
He served on the faculties of the University of Rochester, the University of Pennsylvania and the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now the Carnegie-Mellon University), and he was a research physicist at the General Electric Laboratories.
His career in public service began during World War II as a civilian member of the National Defense Research Committee and consultant to the Secretary of War. He was also the director of the training program in atomic energy at the Clinton Laboratories of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory from 1946 to 1947. His wartime research included work on ballistics, radar and nuclear reactors.
Appointed professor of physics at the University of Illinois in 1949, he became department chair in 1957, and dean and vice president for research in 1964.
Elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1951, he served as president on a part-time basis for three years before assuming full-time responsibilities in 1965. He was a member of the board of trustees of The Rockefeller University from 1966 to 1978.
Seitz was science advisor to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Paris from 1959 to 1960 and was a member of the President’s Science Advisory Committee from 1962 to 1969. He was an advisor to the Office of Naval Research, the Office of Aerospace Research, the National Bureau of Standards, the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, the Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, the Defense Science Board (chairman, 1964 to 1968), the National Cancer Advisory Board, and The Smithsonian Institution, among other national and international agencies.
He was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Committee to Maintain a Prudent Defense Policy, and the New York City Commission for Science and Technology. He served as chairman of the United States delegation to the United Nations Committee on Science and Technology for Development, and as a member of the Secretary of State’s Monitoring Panel for UNESCO. He was a member of an advisory board to the office of the Strategic Defense Initiative.
He was former chairman of the board of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. He was a trustee of The American Museum of Natural History and of the Institute for International Education, and a director of the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.
In 1940 Seitz published The Modern Theory of Solids, a book generally regarded as having been a prime influence in the development of solid-state physics, including the development of transistors. His second volume, The Physics of Metals, was published in 1943. His other books include The Science Matrix (1992); On The Frontier: My Life in Science (1994), an autobiography; Stalin's Captive: Nikolaus Riehl and the Soviet Race for the Bomb (1995); and Electronic Genie: The Tangled History of Silicon in Electronics (1997), co-authored with Norman G. Einspruch; and The Cosmic Inventor: Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932) (1999). He was an editor and consultant to numerous scientific publications, including the second Five Year Outlook for the National Academy of Sciences, and was a consulting editor in solid-state physics for the Encyclopedia of Science and Technology University’s Herbert Hoover Medal in 1968; the Defense Department Distinguished Service Award in 1968; the NASA Distinguished Public Service Award in 1969; the Compton Award, the highest award of the American Institute of Physics, in 1970; and the James Madison Medal of Princeton University in 1978. In 1979 he received his second NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal for his “dedicated service as chairman of the NASA Space Program Advisory Council from 1973 to 1977.”
In 1983 he received the Fourth Vannevar Bush Award presented by the National Science Board of the National Science Foundation and the R. Loveland Memorial Award of the American College of Physicians. In 1993 Seitz was awarded the Department of Energy Departmental Award for Public Service, the Acta Metallurgica J. Herbert Hollomon Award and the Materials Research Society von Hippel Award. Also in 1993, the University of Illinois renamed its Materials Research Laboratory in Seitz’s honor. In 1995 he received the National Academy of Engineering’s Distinguished Honoree Award and the Order of the Brilliant Star with Violet Grand Cordon, the highest civilian award of the Republic of China (Taiwan), for his service in behalf of the advancement of science and technology in that country. Seitz served as chair of the Science and Technology Advisory Group to the Premier of Taiwan from 1979 to 1994. In addition to Rockefeller, 31 universities in the United States and abroad awarded him honorary degrees.
Seitz was a member of numerous scientific organizations, including the American Physical Society (president, 1961); the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the American Philosophical Society; the American Society for Metals; the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum Engineers; the American Crystallographic Society; the Optical Society of America; the Washington Academy of Science; and a number of European scientific academies.
From 1978 to 1983 he served as vice chairman of the board of trustees of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Seitz is survived by his son, Joachim Seitz, of Palo Alto, Calif., three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. His wife, Elizabeth Seitz, died in 1992.
The Rockefeller University, March 4, 2008