Clarence Zener

Carnegie Mellon University

December 1, 1905 - July 2, 1993

Scientific Discipline: Applied Physical Sciences
Membership Type:
Emeritus (elected 1959)

Theoretical physicist Clarence Zener described in 1934 the breakdown of electrical insulators; a voltage regulator developed on the basis of this work was later named the Zener diode. Zener developed a method of geometric programming in which adjustable parameters derived from his training in mathematics helped to solve numerous engineering problems. This system led to improved model designs for heat exchangers and for ocean thermal energy conversion. Zener’s unconventional laboratory methods emphasized less experimental work and more practical and applied research.

Zener received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Stanford University in 1926. After receiving his Stanford degree, he earned a PhD in physics in 1929 at Harvard University, where he first met his mentor Edwin Kemble. He taught at Washington University in St. Louis from 1935 to 1937, at the City College of New York from 1937 to 1940, and at Washington State University from 1940 to 1942. He worked at the Watertown Arsenal during World War II. After the war he taught at the University of Chicago until 1951. He received the Bingham Medal for his work in rheology and the John Price Wetherill Medal from The Franklin Institute in 1957 and 1959, respectively, while serving as director of science at Pittsburgh's Westinghouse Electric Corporation until 1965. In 1966, Zener returned to teaching at Texas A&M University. He finished his teaching career at Carnegie Mellon University from 1968 to1993.

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