Talented scholar and educator Philip Albert Leighton maintained an active research program in the photochemistry of gasses and consulted both locally and nationally on the problem of air pollution, while serving the Stanford community and the nation in a diversity of scientific leadership roles. His work with the Army during World War II led to establishment of one of Stanford’s first federally funded research operations, the Aerosol Laboratory, which became Metronics Associates, Inc., in 1961. His two enduring monographs on air pollution have become classics and collector’s items.
Born in Covina, California, Professor Leighton grew up on a citrus ranch in what is now urban Los Angeles. He completed bachelor’s and master’s studies in chemistry at nearby Pomona College (AB 1920, AM 1923) before pursuing doctoral research at Harvard University (AM 1925, PhD 1927). He stayed on at Harvard as instructor for a year before coming to Stanford University in 1928. He became assistant professor in 1929, associate professor in 1932, and full professor in 1937.
During World War II, Professor Leighton served as Operations Director for an important civilian R&D center in Utah, where he was promoted to Colonel in the US Army and awarded the Legion of Merit Medal. Returning to Stanford in 1945, he became actively engaged in planning for the Stanford Research Institute. A skilled and personable administrator, Professor Leighton also served as Chemistry Department executive head 1940–54, chair of the Department of Physical Sciences 1940–42, and dean for the School of Physical Sciences 1946–50. He retired to emeritus status in 1962, but continued research with his group at Stanford and remained active as a consultant to the Air Pollution Foundation.