University of California Seal



Daniel Kivelson

 Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus

Los Angeles



After a brief illness, Daniel Kivelson passed away at the UCLA Medical Center on January 23, 2003. Daniel was in many ways the ideal of a UC professor. He was an original and deep scholar, a great teacher, and a department and campus leader. Above all else, he was an extraordinary friend and counselor to many of us.

Daniel was born in New York City in 1929. He began undergraduate studies in chemistry and physics at Harvard in 1945 and continued there until 1953 when he received a doctorate in chemical physics under the supervision of E. Bright Wilson. After two years as an instructor at MIT, Daniel came to UCLA in 1955 as an instructor. His thesis research had been concerned with the use of microwave spectroscopy as a tool for determining molecular structure and at UCLA he established a program in electron spin resonance spectroscopy. This early research had the hallmarks of Daniel’s approach to science – a combination of expertise in experimentation with fundamental theoretical analysis. After 40 years, his treatment of electron spin relaxation in fluids continues to be one of the most highly cited papers in the field. Daniel made important contributions to the theory of molecular relaxation in fluids throughout his career and carried out complementary experimental studies by light scattering, in which he was an early leader. During the past ten years Daniel had undertaken experimental and theoretical research on supercooled liquids and glasses and he brought major new insights into this important and challenging area. He pursued this research vigorously until his death.

Daniel was a brilliant and charismatic teacher. He was a mentor to many graduate students and post-doctoral fellows and he took particular pleasure in introducing undergraduates to research. Never completely happy with the textbooks that were available for his courses, he wrote extensive class notes, which he revised nearly every quarter. He continued to teach undergraduates each year after his retirement in 2000. Daniel received the UCLA Harvey L. Eby "Art of Teaching Memorial Award" in 1967 and was the recipient of the 1987 College of Letters and Science Faculty Award. In 2001 he received a Senior Scientist Mentor award from the Dreyfus Foundation in recognition of his commitment to undergraduate research.

Daniel's record of service was also exceptional. He chaired many departmental committees and held the positions of both undergraduate and graduate advisor. From 1975 to 1978 he served as department chair. When there were thorny campus issues to be addressed, Daniel was likely to be asked to deal with them. During the Vietnam War he chaired a College Committee to Study ROTC; he was a member of a Special Senate Committee on Faculty Ethics and he chaired or was a member of committees to address the problem of faculty housing, review academic programs, and recommend several deans, librarians and vice-chancellors. Daniel chaired the UCLA Division of the Academic Senate in 1978-79.

It is not surprising that Daniel was the recipient of many awards and distinctions for his scholarly work. These include Guggenheim, Sloan and Fulbright Fellowships, the American Chemical Society California Section Award, and the Herbert Newby McCoy Award. He was a fellow of the American Physical Society and was awarded its Irving Langmuir Prize in Chemical Physics in 1999. He presented the Lorentz lecture at the University of Leiden and the Willard Lectures at the University of Wisconsin.

Daniel’s passions extended beyond science. He collected Turkoman weavings, wrote about them, and lent pieces to museums. He loved good food and could speak with authority about the merits of restaurants in Los Angeles or Paris. He traveled widely and to out-of-the-way locales but had a special fondness for London and Paris. He was knowledgeable about current affairs and was in the best sense a liberal, imbued with a respect for social justice and democracy.

Daniel set an example that has been a source of inspiration to many. His ambition was not to win prizes and attract attention (although he did), but to do beautiful science, to enjoy doing it with friends, and to instruct new generations of scientists. For more than four decades those of us fortunate to be Daniel’s friends and colleagues, both junior and senior, sought his advice, scientific insight and stimulating company. Daniel made a lasting mark on everyone who interacted with him closely. We will miss his penetrating intellect, his conspicuous originality, his relentless honesty, his loving generosity in thought and action, his infectious love for and appreciation of the richness of life’s offerings, his deft sense of humor and his megawatt smile.

Daniel is survived by his wife Margaret, professor of earth and space sciences at UCLA; his daughter Valerie, who is professor of history at the University of Michigan, and her husband Tim; his son Steven, professor of physics at UCLA and his wife Pam; and five grandchildren.

In Daniel’s honor a special fund has been established for undergraduate summer research fellowships in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.


Charles M. Knobler

Andrea Liu

Robert L. Scott