Frederick Seitz

The Rockefeller University

July 4, 1911 - March 2, 2008

Scientific Discipline: Physics
Membership Type:
Member (elected 1951)

Physicist Frederick Seitz was President of the National Academy of Sciences from 1962 to 1969. His research opened up the field of condensed-matter physics by developing the Wigner-Seitz method for calculating the cohesive energy of a metal.  He also helped to unify the concepts of metallurgy and electronics, which had important implications during World War II.

In 1932 Seitz graduated from Stanford and went on to attend graduate school at Princeton in 1934. He was a Professor and Head of the Physics Department at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University. In the beginning of his career he joined the faculties of the University of Rochester and the University of Pennsylvania. During World War II he served on several wartime committees including the National Defense Research Committee, which conducted research on radar, ballistics, and the development of the atomic bomb.

After the war, he worked at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory as the Director of the Atomic Energy Training Program. In 1949 he became a Research Professor of Physics and eventually Chairman of the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois. From 1968 to 1978, Seitz served as the President of Rockefeller University where he introduced new biological programs such as cell and molecular biology. In addition, he created a M.D. –PhD program with Cornell University Medical College. In 1973 Seitz was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Nixon for his contributions to the modern quantum theory.

Seitz’s presidency at the National Academy of Science was marked by the Cold War and the age of space exploration. He oversaw the creation of the Universities Research Association, which worked with the Atomic Energy Commission to build the largest particle accelerator at the time. The Academy’s Space Science Board saw an increase in activity during this time period as it worked with NASA on lunar exploration. In addition, he appointed the Committee on Science and Public Policy.

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