Arie Jan Haagen-Smit

Arie Jan Haagen-Smit

Arie Jan Haagen-Smit (December 22 1900 Utrecht - March 17 1977, Pasadena, California) was a Dutch chemist. He is best known for linking the smog in Southern California to automobiles and is therefore known by many as the "father" of air pollution control. After serving as an original board member of the Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board, formed in 1960 to combat the smog, Dr. Haagen-Smit became the California Air Resources Board's first chairman in 1968. Shortly before his death, of lung cancer, the Air Resources Board's El Monte Laboratory was named after him.


He attended the Rijks Hoogere Burger School in Utrecht. He graduated from University of Utrecht in 1922 with a major in organic chemistry. He earned his M.A. degree in 1926 and Ph.D. in 1929. His work was on terpenes, a hydrocarbon found in plants. His dissertation is titled “Investigations in the Field of Sesquiterpenes.”

Academic career

He stayed at the University of Utrecht from 1929 to 1935 as chief assistant. He became an expert in plant derived chemicals, particularly Auxins, a hormone. He was invited to lecture at Harvard University in 1936 by Kenneth Thimann. He was appointed as associate professor by California Institute of Technology in 1937 by Thomas Hunt Morgan, and professor in 1940, becoming one of the "Dutch Mafia" at Cal Tech. (One other member of the mafia was Frits Warmolt Went.) Two other scientists and he jointly published a paper on traumatic acid, a wound healing hormone, in " Science" in 1939. He was the director of the Plant Environmental Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology from 1965 to 1971.

Air Pollution Fighter

He started his air pollution research in 1948, when Southern California residents suffered with burning in the eyes from the smog. Although his original concern started from the sickness of his plants, he had received many requests from government agencies to invetigate air pollution. He identified ozone, a chemical formed from the byproducts of automobile combustion and nitrogen oxide from local industrial fuel burning process. He developed an ozone test to measure the intensity of the smog. Automobile industry started to implement PCV valve to reduce the hydrocarbon emission because of his promotion of clean air. This existing technology, which was developed for military vehicles to ford water during World War II, reduced half of the hydrocarbon emission. He was appointed by Governor Ronald Reagan as the first Chairman of the California Air Resources Board in 1968. He was fired by Reagan in 1974 for refusing to obey a directive to ease up on pollution control efforts.


1947 the Knight Order of Orange-Nassau of the Netherlands

1950 the Fritizche award of American Chemical Society

1964 the Tolman Award of American Chemical Society

1973 National Medal of Science Physical Sciences of the United States of America

1974 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement

He was also the recipient of the Smithsonian Medal, the $50,000 Alice Tyler Ecology Prize, and the Rhineland Award.

He was the Fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences and the Royal Academy of Sciences of the Netherlands.

He was the trustee of the American Chemical Society.


In 1930, he married Petronella Francina Pennings. They had a son, Jan Willem Adrianus, before her death in 1933. On June 10, 1935, he married Maria Wilhelmina Bloemers, a graduate student of Botany in the University of Utrecht. They had three daughters: Maria Van Pelt, Margaret Scott, and Joan Demers.


# [ | A. J. Haagen-Smit Biography]
# [ | The History of California Environmental Protection Agency]
# [ | Haagen-Smit, Zus. interview by Shirley K. Cohen. Pasadena, California, March 16 and 20, 2000. Oral History Project, California Institute of Technology Archives.]

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