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Richard Morita Oral History Interview

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Richard Morita Oral History Interview


The interview opens with Morita describing his childhood, his school days and then his experiences in the Japanese internment camps during World War II. After high school, Morita began attending Pasadena Senior College but was forced to drop out when he and his family were interned. Morita wanted to attend university but had difficulty finding a school that would accept him. He was eventually released from the camp in order to attend the University of Nebraska. His college career was interrupted by the military draft, and Morita was conscripted into the U.S. army. Although he never saw combat due to his late conscription, he mentions some of the decorations his regiment had received prior his assignment. He also notes that the regiment had a turnover rate of 320% due to high mortality rates.

Morita goes on to describe his experiences in the army and then his graduate school activities. Once again he had difficulty getting either a job or a place at a university due to racial prejudices. He was eventually offered a teaching assistantship at the University of Southern California. After finishing his master’s degree at USC, he wanted to pursue a PhD at Berkeley but was dismayed to find it overcrowded with PhD students, and went to Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego instead on the recommendation from his mentor. Morita recounts the pioneering oceanography expeditions in which he took part during his post-doctoral tenure at Scripps. He then returns to his time in the army to talk about his role within the regiment and the various places in Europe they were stationed at.

The interview then returns to Morita’s oceanographic research. During his time at Scripps, Morita was part of a team that discovered microbial extremophiles (organisms that thrive under extreme pressure, such as at the bottom of the ocean). Morita then accepted a job at Oregon State University, where he became interested in the question of sacrophiles (bacteria that thrive on cold temperatures). The existence of sacrophiles had been posited but none had been discovered up to that point. Morita was able to find the fatal flaw in other researchers’ methods and account for it, thereby becoming the discoverer of sacrophiles. The remainder of the interview consists of Morita jumping back and forth between his military experiences and his research.

Dr. Richard Morita was born and raised in Pasadena, California. After graduating high school, he began attending Pasadena Senior College but was forced to drop out early when he and his family were interned by the federal government during World War II. His family was first sent to the Tellary relocation camp and then transferred to the Hilo camp. Morita was eventually allowed to leave the camp in order to attend the University of Nebraska. His education was interrupted again during his junior year when he was drafted into the U.S. army. After the end of the war, Morita returned to Nebraska to finish his degree and then went on to the University of Southern California for his MA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography for his PhD. Throughout his career at Scripps and at Oregon State University, Morita conducted pioneering research on bacterial extremophiles and sacrophiles.


Richard Morita


Voices of Oregon State University Oral History Collection (OH 09)


Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Oregon State University Libraries


February 13, 2010


Hunter Berns, Nicholas Erickson and Kaite O'Connor


Born Digital




Oral History



Oral History Item Type Metadata


Hunter Berns, Nicholas Erickson and Kaite O'Connor


Richard Morita


Valley Library, Oregon State University

Original Format

Born Digital



OHMS Object

Interview Format


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