Celebrating Richard Stein

Celebrating Emeritus Professor Richard Stein

He revolutionized the way research funding was managed at UMass in the 1950s

July 13, 2021

Richard (Dick) Stein (1926-2021) was respected both in the U.S. and abroad as one of his generation’s most prominent scientists in the field of polymer research. He published more than 400 articles, multiple books, and received three honorary doctorate degrees as a faculty member in the College of Natural Sciences.

 

During his four decades at UMass Amherst, he conducted pioneering research in polymer science and revolutionized the management of research funding at the university. He founded the university’s Polymer Science Research Institute and the Research Computing Center in 1961, and was instrumental in setting up the polymer science and engineering programs and the Silvio O. Conte National Center for Polymer Research at UMass.  

Stein passionately believed in the good ideas of everyone he knew, empowering others to do the brave, hard work of following their passions and callings. He inspired people to pursue out-of-the-box ideas and forge new paths. He took pride in the fact that his work was carried forward by the more than 140 master’s and doctoral  candidates he mentored through the years. 

If you’d like to honor Stein’s legacy, please consider making donations to the Dr. Richard Stein Endowed Fund for Polymer Science.

Richard Stein

Memories

I learned so much from the UMASS Polymer Science Department and Prof. Stein in particular. I did my undergraduate studies at IIT Delhi, where Prof. Ashok Misra taught me my first course in Polymer Science and was my undergraduate thesis advisor. Little did I know I would end up doing my thesis with Prof. Stein, who was Ashok’s thesis advisor, too—small world. 

Coming from India, it was interesting to be in a new country and the super melting pot that PSE and the Stein Group was in particular. It was great to mix with student and postdocs from so many countries. I have great memories of visits to Lake Wyola and the Metawampee hike, and learning about Thanksgiving. 

Prof. Stein was a great teacher, who would teach scientific concepts from first principles. I can still visualize him at the blackboard, going left to right solving equations. I was one his first students to be involved with CUMIRP and one of the few students to have Stein and Richard Farris as co­–thesis advisors. I chose Prof. Farris as a co-advisor to get his engineering perspective to complement the physical science of Prof. Stein. However, my thesis work was more focused on input from Prof. Stein as I found that more interesting. As a member of the Stein research group, I got to do SANS at Oakridge and NBS (now called NIST), present papers at various ACS meetings, and interact with so many of the leading thinkers in Polymer Science — Paul Flory, Henri Benoit. P. G. deGennes, and so many more. 

Unlike most of the other students in the Stein group, my research involved swollen gels and solutions. My training with Prof. Stein and UMass PSE prepared me well for my research work at my first job at Shell Development Company. While I do have good memories of so many other faculty members at UMass, Prof Stein was special and I made an effort to keep in touch with him. My work has moved on from the research world to the corporate business side, but I still remember his letters and made an effort to keep in touch. Being in the Boston area, I did get to visit UMass quite often and also took my daughter to meet with Prof. Stein and Judy for lunch at Amherst Chinese. My daughter still remembers that meeting and was also very saddened to hear about his passing.

We all can celebrate the fact that Prof. Stein led a good life, had such a positive impact on so many people and institutions, and that he continues to be a shining example of a really decent human being. We all are so much better off for his contributions. 

—Vivek Soni


I was very sad to hear the news that Prof. Richard Stein left for his heavenly abode. He was indeed a remarkable person — an excellent scientist and above all a great human being. He cared so much for his students and gave them the encouragement for achieving good science. He is really the father of the polymer science and engineering activities at UMass. He gave it his all and yet never wanted to be the head. We will all miss Prof. Stein very much.

—Ashok Misra, NASI Distinguished Professor, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore


I arrived on the Amherst campus in January 1974, having just completed my master’s degree at RIT. My research area for my master’s was light scattering of polymer latex spheres, so I was naturally drawn to Prof. Stein’s research group. It was during a very low point in my time at UMass that Dick had the most impact on my career. I was having difficulty with my research project and was ready to just give up. I went into Dick’s office to tell him of my decision and he listened to me for a while and then started asking me questions and offering suggestions on new experiments I could try. When I left his office, I had a renewed sense of purpose and a confidence in my ability to move forward. Dick’s encouragement meant so much to me then, and I will forever be grateful for his patient guidance throughout my thesis work.

—Bob Cembrola


When I was a junior at William and Mary, I had taken most of my chemistry classes under Prof. Robert Orwoll, a very caring and knowledgeable teacher who, having completed his doctorate under the Nobel laureate Paul Flory, was the polymer expert of the department. He strongly encouraged me to continue with graduate study in polymers, my area of interest, once I finished my studies at William and Mary, and thus encouraged me to apply to several universities, including UMass. When I receive my acceptance letter, it contained a free summer internship, which I could choose to engage in either before or after my first year. At Prof. Orwoll’s strong recommendation, I gladly joined the Stein Research Group three weeks after my graduation from W&M, and continued with Prof. Stein as my PhD advisor for all of my years at UMass.

Prof. Stein was an excellent teacher. In class, he always showed us step-by-step how each physical chemistry equation or scattering relationship was derived and used, enabling each of us as students to thoroughly understand the fundamentals of polymer physics. Also, we all loved the stories that Prof. Stein wove into his lectures. A favorite was the example of getting kicked out of his house for three days because of the mess he’d made in exploring rubber elasticity by placing rubber balloons in the oven (in the kitchen) at different temperatures. On a lighter note, Prof. Stein told us that there should be a unit to describe how quickly someone ages, called a “Stocky.” He maintained that his friend and colleague Walter Stockmeyer aged very slowly, and that the rest of us should also aspire to have a very low number of “Stockys” characterizing our own aging. Two travel stories come to mind: Boarding an airplane to attend a meeting, he noticed that his pants were falling down, only to discover that he had forgotten his belt! Second, as a visiting professor at Kyoto University, he needed to return briefly to Amherst for an important meeting. Since he had everything he needed in his house, he brought no luggage with him. Upon entering Logan Airport, customs detained him for questioning, as they thought it quite suspicious to be on such a long flight without a bag. There are other amusing stories that I’m sure many of you also recall. He had a great sense of humor.

There are many characteristics of Prof. Stein that made him a superior leader and researcher in the polymer field. As an advisor, he cared for each of us as individuals. Whenever questions arose in our work, his office door was always open. During my tenure at UMass, group meetings were held each Friday morning and we each presented our research updates on a regular basis. As we completed key components of our research, he expected us to make presentations at national meetings and helped us with the preparations required. Prof. Stein wanted each of us to be aware of the work being produced by the best polymer researchers in the world, and regularly invited leaders in the polymer field to UMass as seminar speakers and visiting scientists. When Paul Flory visited UMass, Prof. Stein even arranged for our research group to join Prof. Flory for lunch! I will never forget our interactions with colleagues like H. Benoit, E.W. Fischer, P. Geil, P.G. de Gennes, P. Grassley, G. Willson, T. Hashimoto, J. Higgins, A. Keller, R. Koningsveld, G. Wegner, and numerous others.

I will be forever indebted to Prof. Stein for his important influence on my life and that of many others!

—John W. Gilmer, Professor of Chemistry, King University


I can only smile when I think about Prof. Stein "falling forward" when we walked together talking about science. He was always trying to get somewhere as fast as possible (a metaphor). He was ahead of his time in many ways in both research and education. Besides his contributions in polymer crystallization and related fields, he was an engaging educator. Over 30 years ago he was giving "virtual" and "hybrid" lectures to polymer science students as well as companies. He was a true visionary.

—Russ Composto (1987-1990)


My family and I received the news with a big shock and grief. My family spent one-and-a-half years in Amherst from April 1983 while I was a postdoc. Prof. Stein and Judy took care of us just like family members. Prof. Stein gave me many chances to meet great scientists, in addition to access to neutron facilities (NIST and ORNL). Experiences in working at these neutron facilities determined my scientific life, which continues even today. 

Before joining Stein Lab., I learned Polymer Physical Chemistry at Kawai-Hashimoto Lab at Kyoto University. The textbook was a printed copy of Prof. Stein’s lecture note. So, when I joined Stein Lab, I was very familiar with polymer physical chemistry. But Prof. Stein’s real course was amazing and very influential. I enjoyed his lectures and lab meetings held every Friday morning. Visiting Lake Wyola, Metawampee hike, PSE picnics, etc., are unforgettable events. We spent another two months in summer 1986. When we were at MIT in 1991, my family had chances to visit Amherst and met Stein’s family. Prof. Stein and Judy were our “American parents.” 

After I got a job in Kyoto Institute of Technology, I often communicated with Prof. Stein via BITNET. I still remember a funny conversation: Since I remember that Prof. Stein has four girls, and he used to mention that my family is isotactic. One early morning, I sent new-baby news to him: (Mitsu) “I got a third baby boy.” (Dick) "Congratulations!” (Mitsu) “Since the first one is male and the second one is female, my family statistics is syndiotactic.” (Dick) “No, you cannot give a conclusion because of the lack of statistics.” (Mitsu) “Sorry, I cannot afford to have more babies.” (Dick) “Do computer simulation.”

He was a great scientist, but was generous and kind to everybody. He was a person with lots of humor. Everybody loved him. He loved Judy such that wherever and whenever he went, Judy was with him. Now, I am sure that Prof. Stein is reunited with Judy and enjoying the next life in beautiful New England.

— Mitsuhiro “Mitsu” Shibayama, Director, Neutron Science and Technology Center, Comprehensive Research Organization for Science and Society (CROSS)

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