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.

Guest Blogger: Lindsay Wills

OSU-ChUME hosted an event titled “Linus Pauling and the Responsibility of the Scientist” on Wednesday, January 22, 2014, 6pm. This event featured Linda Richards, who spoke about Linus Pauling and his legacy within the peace movement and nuclear proliferation. The goal of this event was to learn about Linus Pauling and to open discussions amongst undergraduate and graduate students about Linus Pauling and how his life can be used to understand our role as scientists in society today.

This event was a great success. Linda gave an exceptional presentation and was very knowledgeable about nuclear proliferation and Linus Pauling’s involvement in the peace movements of the 1960’s. The audience was also exceptional, asking a wide variety of questions about the scientific and societal aspects of the talk.  The questions ranged from understanding how the effects of nuclear testing should be measured to what modern social movement is most analogous to the peace movement.

If you missed this event, there will be more events like this coming up later in the term! Next Tuesday, February 4, we will be hosting a watch party for Bill Nye’s debate with creationist Ken Ham (Location: TBA). Come join us for pizza and enthusiastic conversations about science!

OSU-ChUME is hosting an event titled “Linus Pauling and the Responsibility of the Scientist” on  Wednesday, January 22, 2014 at 6pm in LPSC 402.

Our guest speaker, Linda Richards*, will speak on how Linus Pauling’s work, as a chemist and an activist, affected the global peace and social justice movements.

The goal of this event is to use Linus Pauling’s life as a framework to understand how chemists impact the broader community, and to begin the dialogue on  the responsibility of our generation of scientists (undergraduate and graduate students) to properly engage in service to these communities.

We hope to see you there!


OSU-ChUME Graduate Student Mentors

Chemistry Department,

Oregon State University



Linda Marie Richards is a PhD (ABD) in the History of Science. She is a 2014 Chemical Heritage Foundation Doan Fellow who has been researching nuclear history at Oregon State University since 2007. Richards has been speaking with the public about nuclear issues since 1986, when she walked across country with the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament.