Ken Hedberg
Ken Hedberg, a professor in the department of chemistry, moved into his office in the basement of Gilbert Hall in the early 1960s. (Photo by: Justin Quinn – Daily Barometer)

Originally printed in The Daily Barometer, Wednesday, February 5, 2014 (used with permission)

By: Dacotah-Victoria Splichalova

Professor Ken Hedberg makes waves in his field after nearly 30 years in retirement.

He tells everyone to “just call me Ken.”

Professor Ken Hedberg is an Oregon State University alumnus and the longest emeritus faculty researcher to continue researching after retirement for nearly 30 years.

Hedberg was born in Portland on Feb. 2, 1920. His father only completed eighth grade, and his mother didn’t continue her education after high school.

“Both of my parents were incredibly smart,” Hedberg said.

When the Great Depression hit, Hedberg’s father lost his job, which put the family in financial straits.

Hedberg recalls the lights being shut off in his home for periods of time; food rationing became a reality.

This experience left a strong imprint on Hedberg.

“My father said to me in my early teens that with every dollar I made, he would match for my college education,” Hedberg said, “but then how the depression hit us and with my father being out of work for such a long time — I knew that this promise would not come to be.”

Readjusting through a series of moves across the state, Hedberg, his mother and his sister moved to Corvallis with the goal in mind for the Hedberg children to attend OSU, while Hedberg’s father took a job working on the coast.

“I was so impressed by how my mother and my father came together to see what options they had in order to do the best for our family,” Hedberg said.

In order to meet this goal, Hedberg’s mother ran a boarding house within their home.

“It was a lot of work for my mother — the cooking the cleaning,” Hedberg said. “Almost 75 years later, I wouldn’t be seated here nor carrying out my research if my mother didn’t work as hard as she did.”

Graduating OSU in the 1940s, Hedberg attended graduate school at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., where he first met Dr. Linus Pauling, a fellow OSU graduate and head of the department of chemistry at the California Institute of Technology.

For the young graduate student, Pauling took note of Hedberg’s talents and intelligence and pushed Hedberg to pursue research that he was interested in. Pauling supported Hedberg by cultivating channels of opportunities and became a close, lifelong mentor and friend.

Upon completing his Ph.D., Hedberg was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship and Fulbright Scholar Program within the same year carrying out his research in Oslo.

Hedberg enjoyed exploring and seeing all the sites that the Norwegian culture offered him.

One warm summer evening in Oslo, Hedberg, a lover of chamber music, booked a ticket to attend an outdoor performance.

While waiting in line to pick up his ticket, Hedberg looked over to see a young woman, a woman researcher who worked with him in his new lab. She too was picking up her ticket for the show.

They entered together.

“Following, we went to a famous restaurant called Blom,” Hedberg said. “We had some snacks and munchies and walked our separate ways home.”

That was the first evening of the rest of their lives.

The couple married. Sixty years later, Lise and Ken Hedberg have two children — who respectively graduated from Stanford University and Harvard University — and four grandchildren.

In the early years, Hedberg worked at Caltech. Yearning to leave the Southern California smog, Hedberg decided to return with his family to beautiful Oregon to carry out his research and teach chemistry at his alma mater in the 1960s.

Hedberg retired from OSU in 1986.

Monday through Friday, Hedberg still arrives in the mornings to work on his research.

Hedberg is considered a sort of phenomena in the chemistry department.

He is an internationally recognized scientist and is one of the world’s pioneers in the development of electron diffraction and the study of molecular structures and intramolecular dynamics.

Moreover, Hedberg is the only researcher in OSU history to remain continuously funded, while being retired.

“Ken’s been retired — but not retired — for almost as long as I’ve been here,” said Phillip Watson, professor of chemistry at OSU.

Working for free, Hedberg continues to conduct his research at OSU and make scientific advancements within his field.

Sumit Saha (Photo by: Justin Quinn, c/o Daily Barometer)
Sumit Saha (Photo by: Justin Quinn, c/o Daily Barometer)

By: Dacotah-Victoria Splichalova

Originally printed in The Daily Barometer February 4, 2014 (used with permission)

Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry looks at sustainable compounds used in electronics.

Behind every LCD screen, there are metal components that require high-quality UV exposure in order for the television or iPhone displays to work more efficiently.

Higher quality metals used in LCDs produce faster pixels, which results in better quality devices.

“We’re looking at elements that are more commonly available and affordable like tin, zinc and aluminum,” said Shawn Decker, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of chemistry and a member of the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry. “Our goal is to discover ways to process these materials in more sustainable and less energy-consuming ways.”

Traditionally the materials that go into making electronic devices have been processed using various types of vacuum chambers, which takes a lot of energy, according to Decker. This process is of concern to Decker and his colleagues because it is inefficient and wasteful.

Recognizing the vital need to lessen the energy that goes into the production of these materials, the CSMC’s research is looking at cutting down the waste of materials and energy by focusing on more environmentally friendly compounds and solvents.

For this reason, one of the main solvents being used within the laboratory research is water.

The CSMC is a Phase-II Center for Chemical Innovation and is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. It is the brainchild of Doug Keszler, a distinguished professor in the department of chemistry at OSU and the current director of the center.

Maintaining a strong emphasis on research collaboration, the CSMC brings together university, industry and community partners.

There are six university collaborators involved with furthering research discovery within the CSMC: Oregon State University, University of Oregon, Washington University in St Louis, Rutgers University, UC Davis and UC Berkeley. Hewlett Packard, IBM and Intel are a few of the CSMC’s industry partners.

The CSMC is comprised of researchers from various disciplines including inorganic and computational chemists, mechanical engineers, material science specialists, physicists and electrical engineers.

The industry strives to make displays on electronic devices, like the iPhone or the flat screen television, thinner and thinner.

The overarching goal for CSMC researchers and its industry partners is to produce materials that will in turn shrink the electrical components and all of the parts that go into making these displays.

“These devices can take up less space and be nice and flush against your living-room wall or fit better in your coat pocket,” Decker said.

The center is working with different metals that are low-cost and reusable, so the energy it takes to produce these new materials is reduced.

Sumit Saha, a synthetic chemist, joined the CSMC this past fall as a postdoctoral research scholar.

Saha is focused on cultivating some of these new materials by working specifically with organometallic compounds, which are organic and inorganic metals combined.

This combination of the old technology (organic materials only) with the new (inorganic materials) is a bridge toward becoming more sustainable in the industry.

The opportunity to see how the CSMC’s research performs outside of the lab on the larger scale within industry is important for the researchers in order to recognize what the full potential and benefits are for society, according to Saha.

“It is a great center to work … to commercialize (students’ and faculty’s) research with the potential of starting up a new company,” Saha said. “Researchers need to share our science with the community in order to see if its going to be applicable or not.”