Remembered as an accessible educator and talented leader, skilled in building close collaborative networks, David Malcolm Mason is credited with organizing Stanford’s Department of Chemical Engineering, which he chaired from its inception in 1960 until 1972. He advocated for undergraduate education, staying involved with the university administration and working with the national committee responsible for accreditation of professional chemical engineering programs in the US. He was a devoted teacher and skilled researcher in nitrogen chemistry, advancing the study of nitric oxygen pollution and fuel cell chemistry.
Professor Mason was born in 1921 in Los Angeles. He studied applied chemistry at the California Institute of Technology (BS with honors, 1943), and continued at Caltech to complete his graduate study in chemical engineering (MS 1947, PhD 1949). After several years as instructor at Caltech, he took a position as head of the Applied Chemistry Group at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. He joined the Stanford Chemistry faculty in 1955, as associate professor in the department’s division of chemical engineering, advancing to full professor in 1958.
Professor Mason’s close ties with other chemistry faculty are credited with creating a strong symbiosis between the Chemistry Department and fledgling Chemical Engineering Department, which he helped to found based on a Ford Foundation grant in 1960. Housed in the John Stauffer Building, the new department prospered as Mason hired in outstanding junior and senior faculty. After handing off the reins of the department in 1972, he served as Associate Dean of Engineering for Undergraduate Affairs (1973-76) and Associate Dean of Engineering for Student-Faculty Affairs (1978-82). He worked to foster balance through tumultuous campus protests and change in the 1970s, and remained active in university and student concerns after his official retirement to emeritus status.