Frederick Seitz Biography

Frederick Seitz biography portrait

Frederick Seitz

Former Member of the National Space Society Board of Governors


Frederick Seitz had a long and beneficial association with the Physics Department and the Materials Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Seitz received his education at Stanford University (mathematics) and at Princeton University (physics) where he studied with Professor Wigner. He taught physics at the University of Rochester, the University of Pennsylvania, and at Carnegie Institute of Technology before coming to the University of Illinois in 1949. His arrival at Illinois as a Professor of Physics occurred during the F. W. Loomis era in the Physics Department and began the period of the great growth in the solid state physics in the department with the arrival also of Professors David Lazarus, James Koehler, and John Bardeen, Charles Slichter, John Wheatley, Dillon Mapother, and David Pines.

The infusion of great talent made Illinois the major center of solid state physics in the U.S. Professor Seitz became the Physics Department Head in 1957, serving in that position until 1964. During that period, the growth of solid state physics and metallurgy was nurtured by Fred Seitz who, along with the excellent faculty in the Physics and Metallurgy Departments, attracted a succession of world renowned physicists and metallurgists to the Illinois prairie. A particularly notable event in the development of solid state physics and materials physics as a field of science was the publication, in 1940, of Professor Seitz’s book, Modern Theory of Solids, from which generations of students learned their solid state physics and which served to define the field.

In 1959, Professor Seitz, in cooperation with Professor Robert Sproul of Cornell, Professor Harvey Brooks of Harvard, Dr. Charles Yost of the ONR, and Dr. Donald Stevens of the AEC (presently known as the DOE) conceived of and worked to establish the Materials Research Laboratories at several universities in the U.S. It is no exaggeration to state that the concept of Materials Science as a discipline arose from the efforts of these individuals. The first Materials Research Laboratories were established at three universities in 1960 by ARPA. Illinois was not among them due to a political dispute between the congressional delegations of Michigan and Illinois. The Atomic Energy Commission did establish a program at Illinois and in 1961, ARPA established the Materials Research Laboratory at Illinois. This accounts for why the Materials Research Laboratory at Illinois has both DOE and NSF programs to this day. While Professor Seitz was instrumental in establishing the Materials Research Laboratory, the first Director was Professor Robert Maurer.

Professor Seitz served as Dean of the Graduate College and Vice-Chancellor for Research at Illinois until 1965 at which time he became the first full time President of the National Academy of Sciences. He became President of Rockefeller University in 1968 and served until 1978. Professor Seitz has served on numerous governmental panels and committees, and advised major political figures of the period on important scientific issues. He has made numerous scientific contributions to the understanding of the physics of solids; contributing significantly to the understanding of quantum mechanics, defect properties of solids, radiation damage, color centers, and transport properties of solids.


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