William A. Zisman, 80, the former head of the surface chemistry branch of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington and an authority in the field of lubrication, died of pneumonia July 21 at the Althea Woodland Nursing Home in Silver Spring.
Dr. Zisman, a resident of Silver Spring, worked at the research laboratory from 1939 until he retired in 1975.
He was known in the scientific community for his research on synthetic lubricants, which were widely used to keep the motors of jet aircraft running in frigid climates. During the Korean War he directed the development of a lubrication system for aircraft machine guns that enabled them to function reliably in the extreme cold of the Korean winters.
His work on lubricants at the Naval Research Laboratory was also applied to cameras, gun sights, periscopes, gas turbine engines, electric motors, computing equipment, ship ventilating motors, aircraft control bearings, gyroscopes and several other mechanisms. It also led to the development of the techniques that made Teflon-coated frying pans possible.
Dr. Zisman was a native of Albany, N.Y. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a doctorate at Harvard. Before joining the Naval Research Laboratory he was a research associate in geophysics at Harvard University.
At the Naval Research Laboratory he initiated a research program on the chemistry and physics of surfaces and films that eventually led to the formation of the surface chemistry branch of the laboratory.
In 1964, Dr. Zisman received the Defense Department's Distinguished Civilian Service Award for his research into surface chemistry, and in 1955 he received the Hillebrand Award, the top honor of the Chemical Society of Washington. He was a former president of the Chemical Society of Washington, the author of more than 150 articles in scientific journals, and held 36 patents.
He lectured at Georgetown and American universities. He was a member of the Washington Academy of Science, the New York Academy of Science and the American Physical Society.
Survivors include his wife, Esther Baitz Zisman, and a daughter, Sandra Ruth Zisman, both of Silver Spring, and a sister, Leona N. Zisman of Washington.