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.

Attracting children to science

By McKinley Smith

Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 02:05

Discovery DaysKevin RagsdaleOSU’s Sigma Delta Omega sorority, leads kids through a dry ice experiment during Discovery Days at the LaSells Stewart Center.



Discovery Days2Kevin RagsdaleBrad’s World Reptiles brings a juvenile alligator to Discovery Days.




Thirty-three school groups from Linn and Benton counties came to Tuesday’s half of the semi-annual Discovery Days event, with grades as young as kindergarten and as old as sixth grade represented among the expected number of nearly 1000 children per day.
Discovery Days is sponsored by the Colleges of Science and Engineering and relies on volunteers to run stations showcasing science and engineering for children from schools in cities like Sweet Home and Lebanon. Nearly 75 volunteers — mostly Oregon State University students — submitted applications to assist.

Margie Haak, Discovery Days coordinator and a senior instructor in chemistry, has been working with Discovery Days for 10 years, but can remember chaperoning her oldest son’s class to the event when it was called Museum Days — her son is now 28.
The event provides an opportunity for students to gain exposure to “doing science rather than reading about it,” Haak said.

“We’re in the position that we can offer them things that they can’t do in the schools,” Haak said. “These are our future students.”

Discovery Days takes place at the LaSells Stewart Center on the south side of the OSU campus.

Jasper LaFortune’s station featured a beaker of water and dry ice that produced carbon dioxide, which students scooped up in plastic cups.

“Kids can take a cup and dip it in and drink it and throw it on their friends and have a lot of fun with it,” LaFortune, a freshman in computer science, said.
The sorority, Sigma Delta Omega, was also represented, presenting two demonstrations featuring dry ice.

“It’s just a really fun way for us to interact with children and expand the knowledge of science throughout our community,” said Rachel Grisham, a freshman in biology and a Sigma Delta Omega member.

“Teaching students, especially female students, about science is very important,” Haak said.

Taylor McAnally, a freshman in human development and education, helped children learn about light, reflectivity and temperature.

“They get a chance to come play and really learn one-on-one with hands-on stuff,” McAnally said.

For Abdu Alyajouri, a second grader from Franklin elementary school, it was his sixth time at Discovery Days. His favorite station was one that involved static electricity because he “got to shock people,” he said.
Sophia Bell, another second grader at Franklin, also said she liked the static station.

“I like the static one because it’s really fun to shock people,” Bell said.

Bell said she likes science and wants to be a teacher.

Discovery Days continues from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
McKinley Smith, news reporter