James N. Pitts Jr.

James N. Pitts Jr. was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on January 10, 1921 to Esther Bengtson and James N. Pitts.  The family moved when he was six months old to Los Angeles, which made him a "native Californian within experimental error", as he liked to say.  He attended Manual Arts High School and then UCLA where he was introduced as an undergraduate to research in photochemistry by Professor F. E. Blacet.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Professor Blacet took a leave to become part of a civilian chemical corps for the National Defense Research Committee (1942-45); he asked Jim to join the group, working on the development of gas masks to protect Allied troops in the field.  After the war ended, Jim returned to UCLA to finish his B.S. and then in 1949, his Ph.D.  During this time, he did one of the first science shows on Los Angeles television with Arnold Miller, also in the Blacet research group.  He married Nancy Quirt in 1946 and joined the faculty at Northwestern University in 1949.  He thoroughly enjoyed Northwestern and his colleagues there, but the weather was a challenge for a California family.  Thus, it was with some regret but also with enthusiasm for taking on new challenges that he returned to California in 1954 as a founding faculty member of the new University of California Riverside campus.  His research focused on fundamental photochemistry, and in 1966 he coauthored with Jack Calvert a book that remains a classic in that area. He held an M.A. degree from Oxford where he spent two sabbatical leaves, in 1961 as a Guggenheim Fellow at University College and in 1965 as a Research Fellow and undergraduate tutor at Merton College.

In the 1960's he became interested in the new field of air pollution which was recognized as being driven by photochemical reactions as yet unknown. He was a co-founder in 1961 of the University of California Statewide Air Pollution Research Center (SAPRC), and he became its Director in 1970.  He continued in this position until his retirement in 1988.  During this time, SAPRC became an internationally known center for research in air pollution and the work carried out there largely laid the groundwork for the development of the new field of atmospheric chemistry.  It was widely recognized as an independent source of scientific advice, with visits by scientists from all around the world as well as politicians of all persuasions including Ronald Reagan, George McGovern, Ed Muskie and Jerry Brown.

There are few atmospheric problems today that do not have Jim's early fingerprints on them.  He coauthored 380 scientific publications and four books, two of which are on atmospheric chemistry co-authored with his wife, Barbara Finlayson-Pitts.  He was designated one the "Most Highly Cited Researchers" by the Institute for Science Information.  His scientific perception, vision and enthusiasm inspired a number of generations of young scientists, many of whom went on to win awards themselves, including in one case, a Nobel Prize. The research carried out by his team provided much of the scientific basis of California's forward-looking policies and regulations which have been widely adopted both nationally and internationally, and which led to the dramatic improvement in air quality we enjoy today.

He was always willing to testify to state and federal legislative bodies regarding the science of air pollution, and to provide informal advice to a variety of stakeholders.  He received many commendations and accolades both for his science and for its translation into policy for the public good.  These included recognition from the California Assembly, the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the U.S. Congress.  He was a member of, or chaired, a number of statewide committees for the California Air Resources Board, including the Acid Deposition Committee and the Scientific Review Panel on Airborne Toxic Chemicals.  He had a firm policy of not accepting consultantships or support from industry that would give even a hint of perception of bias in his translation of science into public policy.

His accomplishments and contributions were recognized with many awards, including the 1973 Orange County Section of the American Chemical Society Service Through Chemistry Award;  the 1979 California Lung Association Clean Air Award; the 1982 Air Pollution Control Association Frank A. Chambers Award; the 1983 Richard C. Tolman Medal of the Southern California Section of the American Chemical Society; 1983 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; 1984-85 F. J. Zimmermann Award in Environmental Science, Central Wisconsin Section, American Chemical Society; 1992 Lifetime Achievement Clean Air Award from the South Air Quality Management District; 2002 Haagen-Smit Award from the California Air Resources Board for Outstanding Contributions to Air Pollution Science, and the 2007 Carl Moyer Award from the Coalition for Clean Air for Scientific Leadership and Technical Excellence.

In 1994 he was warmly welcomed at the University of California Irvine (UCI) as a researcher when his wife, Barbara Finlayson-Pitts whom he married in 1976, moved to UCI as Professor of Chemistry.  At UCI he played a central role in mentoring at all levels, and particularly enjoyed interactions with undergraduate and graduate students.

Jim was an enthusiastic tennis player at both UCR and UCI, as well as during a sabbatical in Richland, WA.  He was a life-long fisherman and bird hunter, with a love of the outdoors that was instilled by trips to the High Sierras at a young age with his parents.  For a number of years he organized for friends chartered deep-sea fishing trips of several days duration; the neighborhood would anxiously await his return as they knew fresh fish would be generously shared.  He and Barbara were "parents" to a series of Golden retrievers and a Labrador retriever that were hunting companions as well as family members.  Their home in Fawnskin was the focal point for many of their outdoor activities, including photography of bald eagles and day trips around the mountains and surrounding desert, and a gathering point for friends and family.

Jim was universally known as an energetic, brilliant, charming, articulate, witty, warm and loving husband, father and friend with an unrelenting commitment to improving our environment.  He treated everyone "up and down the food chain", from the janitor to governors with the same respect and interest.  He would light up a room, and in a short time know everyone's personal stories.  This Jim is very deeply missed by his wife/coworker/coauthor/fishing buddy Barbara and his black lab Major, as well as his daughters Linda Lee, Christie Hoffman, Beckie St. George.  He is also survived by his former wife Nancy, and six grandchildren and their families.  All of the immense love and support of friends, family and "adopted family", and the incredible caring assistance of Dr’s George and El-Sanadi, David, Fitz, Ryan, Danielle and Yolanda, all true angels, has been appreciated more than it is possible to express. 

"Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." From Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2, William Shakespeare.

Jim Pitts died on June 19, 2014 of natural causes. To view pictures and a retrospective of Dr. Pitts' life, click here.

An undergraduate scholarship fund has been set up at UCI in his name. Memorial donations can be made at 

Checks can be made out to the UCI Foundation and sent to:

Stacie Tibbets
UCI Department of Chemistry
1137 Natural Sciences II
Irvine, CA 92697
(949) 824-5485


Marijana Lekousis
UCI School of Physical Sciences
162 Rowland Hall
Irvine, CA 92697
(949) 824-8111

Should you have any questions regarding giving, please contact Marijana Lekousis, at marijana@uci.edu or (949) 824-8111.

Services will be private.


Kenneth Janda
Friend, Mentee

Dear Barbara:

Jim was a giant physically and intellectually, but still so friendly, kind and generous. He had a huge impact on my life. I loved his stories, and did my best to follow his advice. I will miss him dearly.

Ken Janda

Melissa and Larry Sweet

Larry and I so enjoyed Jim's great sense of humor and hearing all his fabulous stories. No one could instantly recall obscure songs to fit any occasion like Jim could. He was a very gracious, very kind, and very generous man.  He remains an inspiration to us and certainly to anyone interested in breathing. We have so much to thank him for, and it's been a blessing to count him as a friend.

Larry and Melissa Sweet

Samar Moussa

I am extremely sadened to hear this news. My deepest condolonces goes to you Barbara and to all the BJFP group. He was an incredible scientist, a great teacher and a mentor. I will always remember his funny stories and the great scientific discussions we used to have in the library.  He was kind, loving, encouraging and an inspiration. I am honored and blessed to have known a brilliant scientist like him and above all an AMAZING human being  with a big heart.


Sergey Nizkorodov
Friend, Mentee, Colleague

The very first book my undergraduate research advisor in Novosibirsk gave me was the Russian translation of “Photochemistry” by Jack Calvert and James Pitts, the book that launched my photochemistry career. Ten years later, I was fortunate to meet the author in person. Jim was a truly inspirational figure who spread contagious enthusiasm about science to everyone he interacted with. I really appreciated and benefitted from our discussions about science, from his help with writing papers, and from the research ideas he so generously shared. Jim came up with the idea for a series of fascinating experiments on indoor ozone generation we did a few years ago (the photograph above shows Jim next to one of the chambers where these experiments were done). I was privileged to learn from the Master, and I am really sad that he is no longer with us. I will miss Jim a lot and will do my best to always follow his advice to “keep moving so they can’t draw a bead on you!”

Gary Hieftje


I just heard of Jim's passing.  Please accept my deepest condolences.


Jeffrey S. Gaffney
Undergraduate and Graduate Student UCR 1969-1975

Dr. James N. Pitts - Jim was my mentor and long-time friend and colleague. Earned my doctorate under his direction from UCR in June of 1975. Jim was more than a thesis adviser he was also my freshman chemistry teacher and learning from him about the joys and importance of chemistry from him started me off in a long career. I was so pleased to have been able to interview him a few years back for the American Meteorological Society History Project now located at NCAR along with Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland at UCI in the summer of 2008. Jim taught me about the importance of the fundamentals of chemistry and was a role model in how to lead a life of science that was dedicated to working to understanding our atmosphere and environment. Barbara and I were graduate students together and Jim, Barbara and I along with my wife Nancy Marley worked for many years on DOE grants aimed at developing a better understanding of air pollution and climate.

Will miss him a lot especially his sense of humor and his energy. But I will note that he lives on in all of his students and his work. There is not a class that I teach here at UALR that I do not make note of his work and Dr. Rowland's and their basic instincts on how to approach a problem to get to the heart of a solution.

Barbara - my sincerest condolences. Its funny but I had a funny feeling this morning and checked the website to see if something  had happened - and I discovered that Jim had passed yesterday. Seems that we were and will continue to be tied strongly together. His was an amazing life - and I owe him so much along with others who were given the chance to work with him at UCR and UCI. He accomplished a lot - I hope that we can continue his work and help to educate the world about the importance of keeping our atmosphere and planet healthy - something that he spent his life doing!

Nancy and I send our sincerest condolences.


Jeff Gaffney

Chair and Professor of Chemistry

University of Arkansas at Little Rock

B.S. 1971/M.S. 1973/Ph.D. 1975  UCRiverside


Past Chief Scientist and Senior Chemist at Brookhaven, Los Alamos, and Argonne National Labs.

Shelley Z. Fox

Jim will be missed.  He had a full life, surrounded by love.  He always enjoyed a good joke and never came to visit me without one!


Jean-Francois Doussin
Former visitist Scientist in the Finlayson-Pitts group at UCI

I just have learnt that Jim passed away 

I want to testify  how deeply we will mourn his loss  here in Paris.
Jim was a great scientist, a very friendly person with a great sense of humor and passionate in sharing his experience of life. 

During my visit, Jim invited me for lunch quite a few time in Balboa Peninsula. Aside very good food, being taken for lunch by Jim meant also learning so much about thousand of histories : the early smog in SoCal, the loss of the tramway network in LA bassin and its feedback on air quality, the methods for ozone monitoring back then, the rise of CARB... 
Seen from France, Jim was clearly a founding father of Atmospheric Chemistry.
He has light the way where robust science can interact with major societal problem.

Today, in Lyon (France), there is a national conference on Chemical Kinetics and Photochemistry of the Gas Phase and, for sure, Jim will be publically remembered. 

The last time I saw him was in Nice at a EGU/AGU annual conference in 2003. At that time, the atmosphere between US and France at the political level was "kind of complicated". As I joked about that, Jim,  in a laugh, replied "Well, we came and carry high the flag".

And for sure, the flag of Science, Jim will carry it high for long.


Professor in Atmospheric Chemistry

University of Paris-East at Créteil

Institut Pierre Simon Laplace


Arnold Miller

I have so many ongoing memories of exciting adventures with Jim in many different venues over the 66 years we have known each other, both technical and non-technical.  

I will miss him dearly.


Benny Gerber
Friend and Colleague

Jim was a great scientist and a wonderful person..I loved listening to him from which a

learned a lot..I was very fortunate to benefit from his scientific wisdom and advice,

and I am also grateful to him for his friendliness,warmth,and sense of humor.To know

hinm was tio like him immensely and to admire him.

Janet and Don Fall
close friends of Linda and Dale Lee

Dr. Pitts made such a difference in the lives of so many. What a legacy he has left. To be remembered by those whose lives he touched means so much. He made the world a better place. Our loving thoughts and prayers are with you.

A. D.Broadbent and Marthe
Former post-doc

Today, July 2nd, I received the news that a great man had passed away. I spent two years in Jim's lab in Riverside from 1967-69. I moved on to an academic career greatly influenced by this kind and brilliant man. I will never forget the brain-storming sessions when either I would tell Jim not to be so bloody silly, or he would jump on something I said and generate a great idea for a project. I later met several academics who thought Jim was a bullshiter. How far from the truth! He just turned out ideas all the time and if you listened carefully you would find the gems. Just look at his career. I am so glad we were able to get together for a last evening together in the summer of 2012 during a visit to California. He was slow, hurting but ever proud. He insited on going upstairs unaided so he could show Marthe around his office. I loved this man but I.m sure my pain is but a fraction of that of Barbara and his family. God speed old buddy.

Dr. A. D. Broadbent, former professer, Université de Sherbrooke, Québec.

Sarka Langer
post-doc and visiting scientist in the BJFP group at UCI

Dear Barbara,

the sad news about Jim's passing away just reached me. Jim will always be the father of atmospheric chemistry for me. Please, accept my deepest condolences.

Sarka Langer


Paul Shepson

Under relationship I put "friend".  To say that is a huge privilege.  Jim had a big impact on the start of my career, and was an inspiration.  He helped create our discipline, but more importantly, got us all excited about it.  Under "larger than life" in our Dictionary is a picture of Jim.  He will be sorely missed, but continue to inspire us to do and be better.  We are all richer because of Jim.

Rachelle Kowle

My thoughts and condolences are with you at this time. 

Sotiris Xantheas

Dear Barbara,

We want to offer our most sincere condolences for Jim's passing away. It was an honor to have met this GENTLEMAN.

Sotiris & Annmari Xantheas