Dr. Waser WAS freshman chemistry for a generation of Caltech students. Known for his memorable lecturing style, Dr. Waser filled blackboards with great speed and agility, and was infamous for his pop quizzes. Described as a dedicated teacher and supporter of undergraduate research, he was also known for his work in X-ray crystallography.
Born in 1916 in Zürich, Switzerland, Dr. Waser attended the University of Zürich and came to the United States in 1939 intending to spend a year on a graduate student exchange program at Caltech. The outbreak of war kept him in Pasadena, where he completed a Ph.D. in chemistry with Linus Pauling in 1944.
His five-part thesis covered several aspects of electron and X-ray diffraction. He remained at Caltech as a mathematics instructor, research fellow, senior research fellow, and A.A. Noyes Fellow until 1948, when he accepted an appointment at the University of Zürich and, later, at the Rice Institute (now Rice University) in Houston, Texas.
Dr. Waser returned to Caltech in 1958 as professor of chemistry, and for the next 12 years he taught Chem 1, the general chemistry course for freshmen. Before his retirement in 1975, he taught the basic course in physical chemistry as well as oral presentation, by then the only required course in the chemistry curriculum.
At one time, Dr. Waser was president of the American Crystallographic Association, was active in other professional societies, and wrote numerous technical and educational articles.
Upon his retirement from Caltech, he concentrated on writing texts on general and physical chemistry and continued to do research, including work in chemical thermodynamics. He also collaborated with colleague Hans Kuhn in developing a chemical scenario for the origin of life. He was a supporter of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program at Caltech and felt that it was very important for students to have an opportunity to do research even at the freshman level. He was a member of the Caltech Associates and traveled on Alumni Association excursions.
He loved logic and mathematics, music (ranging from jazz to classical), and the outdoors, especially the landscapes of the American southwest. For most of his life he jumped at an opportunity to camp in the desert (preferably with a railroad in view).
He is survived by his wife Irma; three children, Peter Waser, Nickolas Waser, and Katherine Waser; and a grandson, Andrew Waser; and stepson, Ray Weiss (BS 1964).