In Memoriam: Chemistry Professor Mitsuru Kubota

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Longtime Harvey Mudd College Professor of Chemistry Mits Kubota passed away Nov. 11. Kubota served on the faculty of the College between 1959 and 2000 and was chair of the Department of Chemistry from 1989 to 1995.

An inorganic chemist and beloved professor, Kubota had an impressive professional career that included research fellowships at the University of Sussex (1973), Chevron Research Co. (1981) and the University of Venice (1988).

Born on Sept. 25, 1932 in Eleele, Kauai, Hawaii, Kubota was educated in the public school system of Hawaii. After graduation from the University of Hawaii and completion of the R.O.T.C. program in June 1954, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He served a tour of active duty from July 1954 to June 1956 as a battalion communications officer with the 61st Infantry Regiment. In September 1956, he attended the graduate school of the University of Illinois, Urbana, where he was a graduate teaching assistant and a research fellow. His thesis was directed by Professor Theodore L. Brown. Kubota received his PhD in 1960.

Barton Denechaud and Mits Kubota use lab equipment.

Barton Denechaud ’62 and Professor Mits Kubota (1962)

Kubota began teaching at Harvey Mudd in 1959. While his primary teaching responsibility was in the area of advanced inorganic chemistry, he taught courses in quantitative analysis, advanced analytical chemistry and instrumental analysis, and recitation and laboratory sections in physical chemistry. During the academic years and summers, he maintained a program of research supported by the Research Corporation, the Petroleum Research Fund of the American Chemical Society, and the National Science Foundation. He published many papers on organometallic chemistry, and dozens of HMC chemistry students who studied with Kubota went on to earn PhDs or lead research teams at corporations, hold tenure-track professorships at universities or serve in other leadership positions.

It was his influence and inspiration of students that led Kubota to receive the 1992 American Chemical Society Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution. Kubota’s leadership in undergraduate research and his exemplary research mentorship of undergraduates at the College were honored in 2015 by an endowed research fellowship. Kubota Fellows are Harvey Mudd students who take part in a 10-week research project that begins in the summer following their sophomore year, continues through their junior academic year and concludes at the end of the following summer. Each fellowship provides summer stipends, academic year wages, research expenses, conference fees and travel funds.

Other honors Kubota received during his career included a National Science Foundation Science Faculty Fellowship (1966),  a Fulbright Advanced Research Fellowship (1973), and a National Institutes of Health Special Fellowship (1974).

For many years, Kubota was an avid swimmer and cyclist, and was often seen around The Claremont Colleges doing both. He was also active in the Claremont community, including as a member of Community Friends (of International Students). He and his wife, Jane, were founding members and attended all of its major functions. They received its annual volunteer award in 2015.

In addition to chemistry, Kubota enjoyed following the stock market and growing orchids. He grew many rare varieties of orchids and generously donated them for over 20 years to the Flower Booth at Claremont’s International Festival, where he was a regular with the festival crew. He created and named the hybrid Cymbidium Waimea High School in honor of his high school in 2011; the name is recognized by the international orchid register.

Kubota is survived by his wife, Jane, a former substitute teacher in the Pomona Unified School District to whom he was married for over 60 years, and by a son, Keith Kubota, (spouse, Karen), a daughter, Lynne Hanamoto (spouse, Art) and grandchildren, Emily, Adam and Bryce.