Former chemistry department head Dixon dies at 93

February 08, 2013

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Joseph Dixon, professor emeritus of chemistry and former head of the Penn State Department of Chemistry, died Feb. 7 at the age of 93.

Born in Philadelphia on Nov. 4, 1919, Dixon began his career in chemistry in 1937 as an undergraduate student at Penn State, receiving his bachelor's and master's degrees before earning his doctorate in chemistry in 1946. He then became a chemistry instructor at Penn State. From 1951 to 1955, he was a chemist with the California Research Corp. and an associate professor of chemistry at Lafayette College. He then returned to Penn State as a member of the chemistry faculty in 1955, attaining the rank of professor in 1961. His research interests included the study of compounds of organolithium and organomagnesium, the structure of molecules and the physical properties of organic systems.

He was named assistant head of the department in 1967, then he served as head of the department from 1971 until his retirement June 30, 1984. He also had served Penn State as chairman of the University Faculty Senate from 1982 to 1983 after having served as chairman-elect since 1981. He had been a member of the University Faculty Senate from 1958 to 1964 and from 1979 to 1984. Upon his retirement, he was honored with the title of Professor Emeritus of Chemistry in recognition of his superb and transformative leadership in transitioning the department of chemistry into a leading research organization. Under his direction, Penn State developed what was described then as the largest collection of ultra-pure, high-molecular-weight hydrocarbon chemicals in the world. An enthusiastic teacher, he continued to teach some chemistry courses following his retirement, commenting that instructing others is "a way to contribute an impact beyond your lifetime as well as passing the rewards of an exciting field on to someone else." Penn State's Eberly College of Science Alumni Society honored him in 1990 with its Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his over 30 years of service to the University.

Dixon continued to contribute to the chemistry community following his retirement from Penn State in 1984. An active member of the American Chemical Society (ACS) since 1942, he had served as secretary, vice chairman, chairman and councilor of the ACS Central Pennsylvania Section, and he continued his service since 1979 as section editor of the ACS Journal of Chemical and Engineering Data, and on numerous national-level committees, subcommittees and program-review study groups. He served during three terms as chairman of the key committees on Chemical Abstracts, Budget and Finance, and Publications. From 1987 to 1995, he was a member of the ACS Board of Directors.

After having served as director-at-large of the ACS Board since 1987, he was elected as chairman of the board in 1990 and then was re-elected in 1991 to serve in this position until 1992. In 1997, Dixon became chairman of the Pension and Investment Committee of the Board, which oversees the total liquid assets of the American Chemical Society.

In 1997, Dixon received the Harry & Carol Mosher Award of the ACS Santa Clara Section presented "to recognize and encourage work in chemistry, to advance chemistry as a profession and to recognize service to the American Chemical Society."

In addition to being a member of the American Chemical Society, he was a fellow of the American Petroleum Institute; a member of the Sigma Xi, Phi Eta Sigma and Phi Lambda Upsilon scientific honorary societies; and a member of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, the American Association of University Professors and the Pennsylvania Association of College Chemistry Teachers.

Donations in his memory may be made to the Joseph A. Dixon endowment in Chemistry and should be mailed to the Chemistry Department, 104 Chemistry Building, University Park, PA 16802.

An obituary published Feb. 8 in the Centre Daily Times is available online.


Last Updated October 17, 2019