Photo of George C. Pimentel

George C. Pimentel

  • National Medal of Science
  • Chemistry

For his varied and ingenious use of infrared spectroscopy to study chemical bonding and molecular dynamics, and for his discovery of the first chemically pumped laser, which has had strong scientific impact as well as practical applications.

After graduating from college in 1943, George C. Pimentel took a job with the Manhattan Project at the University of California, Berkeley. But once he understood the impact the project would have, he left and joined the Navy. After the Second World War, Pimentel returned to Berkeley and went on to make numerous and wide-ranging contributions in the field of chemistry.

Driven by his desire to understand unusual chemical bonds, Pimentel specialized in spectroscopy — the study of wave lengths. During his career, Pimentel developed a new technique that allowed scientists to discover many highly reactive molecules, improved and invented the chemical laser, which helped scientists better understand chemical reactions.

In the late 1960s, Pimentel’s attention turned to space as he built a spectrometer to study the atmospheric composition of Mars. At age 45, Pimentel even tried to join NASA but was prevented from doing so because of small abnormality in one of his retinas.

During his career, Pimentel also made significant contributions to the CHEM Study project, an effort to improve high school chemistry courses across the United States and inspire students to pursue careers in the field. Pimentel edited and helped write a new standard chemistry textbook. He also wrote five films and contributed other supplementary classroom materials for the project.

By Jacob Kerr