Symposium honors Richard Stein, Goessmann Professor of Chemistry

Featured in the CNS Newsletter: Issue 13 - October 2015

Photo of Richard Stein

A symposium to honor Richard S. Stein, Goessmann Professor of Chemistry emeritus, was held on Friday, August 21. The full day of talks and research presentations included remarks by Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and Massachusetts Senate President Stanley Rosenberg.

Stein joined the Department of Chemistry in 1950 and was central to the development of polymer science research and the creation of the Department of Polymer Science and Engineering. Over the course of his career Stein mentored more than 140 master’s and doctoral candidates, many of whom were on hand as symposium speakers and attendees. Senator Rosenberg presented Stein with an official Joint House Senate resolution recognizing his many accomplishments and contributions to the Commonwealth.

Stein developed the university’s first advanced physical chemistry courses in quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, and polymer science, and initiated graduate research in the study of the structure-property relationships of polymers using light and particle scattering.

He is also credited with revolutionizing research funding management at the campus in the 1950s. Grant dollars from federal agencies went directly to the state treasury, not the Amherst campus. With Dean of Science Charles Alexander, Stein helped pass a bill that allowed research money to come directly to the campus.

Stein became Commonwealth Professor, and in 1961 he founded both the Polymer Research Institute and the Research Computing Center. In 1980, the chemistry department awarded him the Charles A. Goessmann Chair in Chemistry and provided three new professorial positions in polymer science and engineering. In the 1990s he was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.

Thanks to Stein’s expertise and active promotion of the campus, with Congressman Silvio O. Conte’s help the university received $56 million in the 1980s to build a national polymer research center.

In 1999 Stein received the highest honor bestowed by the Material Research Society, the von Hippel Award; he was the first polymer scientist to receive it. The society recognized Stein for his 50 years of research on how polymer materials orient, crystallize, and deform, and saluted him for originating the field of rheo-optics, “which encompasses simultaneous real-time measurement of optical properties and polymer melt rheology.”

Currently, Stein has focused his research interests on Biochar. He is a founding member of the Pioneer Valley Biochar Initiative and the organizer of the UMass Amherst participation in the 2009 Teach-In on Global Warming Solutions and the November 2009 Northeast Symposium on Biochar. Recently, he established the Richard and Judy Stein Endowed Fund for Sustainability and Renewable Energy, the first fund on campus that supports the university’s efforts on sustainability.