May 27, 1911–March 30, 1990
BY R. BYRON BIRD, CHARLES F. CURTISS, AND PHILLIP R. CERTAIN
JOSEPH OAKLAND HIRSCHFELDER WAS one of the leading figures in theoretical chemistry during the period 1935-90. His sustained research program not only spanned five and one-half decades but a wide number of scientific areas as well: chemical kinetics, chemical applications of quantum mechanics, combustion, nuclear explosions, kinetic theory of gases, intermolecular forces, structure of liquids, and laser chemistry. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences at the relatively early age of forty-two and he was chosen to be a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences at age forty-eight. At age sixty-five he received the National Medal of Science from President Gerald Ford “for his fundamental contributions to atomic and molecular quantum mechanics, the theory of the rates of chemical reactions, and the structure and properties of gases and liquids.” Despite his exalted standing in the field of chemical physics, he was a very approachable and gregarious individual. He always insisted on being called “Joe,” and he was always thus addressed by colleagues, students, secretaries, and janitors. It would seem unnatural for us to refer to him in any other way, even in this rather formal summary of his illustrious career.
The account below was prepared by three of his former