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Richard S. Stein

  • Born: August 21, 1925, New York, New York

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0071
Interview Date: June 17, 1987
Location: University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts
Interviewer: James J. Bohning
No. of pages: 57
Minutes: 210

  Abstract of Interview

Richard Stein starts this interview by reflecting on the New York City schools which provided a real stimulus, especially in mathematics and science, to him and his contemporaries. At Brooklyn Technical High School, he took a more vocational set of courses, thinking that the family resources would not cover college study. Contrary to that belief, Stein was able to attend to Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, and under the wartime circumstances, he was able to graduate within three years, including a productive senior project on light scattering with Paul Doty. Stein then accepted a Textile Foundation fellowship at Princeton University. In the three years of his Ph.D. program, he worked under a succession of three advisors: Henry Eyring, Robert Rundle, and Arthur Tobolsky. During this section of the interview, Stein describes the organization of graduate study in chemistry at Princeton and recollects Eyring, Taylor, Rundle, and Tobolsky. An NRC fellowship took Richard Stein from Princeton to Cambridge to work on infrared dichroism under Gordon Sutherland, and he recalls the austerities of life in postwar England and the primitive facilities in the Cambridge physical chemistry laboratories. Soon after his return to this country, Stein was appointed to an assistant professorship in the chemistry department of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Stein describes his heavy teaching load, how he started his research program, and the growth of polymer interests at UMass. The latter led to the inauguration of the Polymer Research Institute at UMass, and Stein reflects on the academic interactions between chemistry and polymer science. The interview concludes with recollections of the visit of a chemistry delegation to China and also with his views on research funding.


1945 B.S., magna cum laude, Chemistry, Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn
1948 M.A., Physical Chemistry, Princeton University
1949 Ph.D., Physical Chemistry, Princeton University

  Professional Experience

Cambridge University

1948 - 1949 National Research Council Fellow

Princeton University

1949 - 1950 Research Associate

University of Massachusetts Amherst

1950 - 1957 Assistant Professor of Chemistry

University of Massachusetts Amherst

1957 - 1959 Associate Professor of Chemistry

University of Massachusetts Amherst

1959 - 1961 Professor of Chemistry

University of Massachusetts Amherst

1961 - 1980 Commonwealth Professor

University of Massachusetts Amherst

1961 Founder and Director, Polymer Research Institute

University of Massachusetts Amherst

1980 Charles A Goessmann Professor


1968 Fulbright Visiting Professor, Kyoto University
1969 International Award, Society of Plastics Engineers
1970 Honor Scroll Award, New England Chapter, American Institute of Chemists
1972 Applied Polymer Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society
1972 Bingham Medal, Society of Rheology
1976 Polymer Physics Award, American Physical Society
1978 Chancellor's Medal, University of Massachusetts
1983 Polymer Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society
1985 Whitby Lecturer, University of Akron
1988 Polymer Science Society of Japan Award

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Schooldays 1

Growing up in Far Rockaway. Interest in science developed at elementary school and at Brooklyn Technical High School. Effect of the Depression on family finances. Technical content of high school courses. School radio station; standard of chemistry laboratory classes.

Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute 8

Wartime study and association with military projects. Faculty and courses. Senior thesis with Paul Doty. Influence of Herman Mark.

Graduate Study at Princeton 14

Eyring and textile fellowship. Colleagues and faculty; Rundle and crystallography; Tobolsky. Textile Research Institute and the Princeton Plastics laboratory. Relations between polymer science and chemistry departments in the university setting.

Fellowship at Cambridge 25

Gordon Sutherland and infrared dichroism. Privations of postwar England. Contemporaries at Cambridge, laboratory facilities.

University of Massachusetts 29

Appointment at UMass and development of new chemistry teaching courses. Initial research efforts; light scattering from polymer films. Funding. Industrial consulting. Setting up of the Polymer Research Institute and its growth. Polymer birefringence. Depolarization of scattered light from vapors. Computation at UMass. Visit to China as part of scientific delegation. Massachusetts initiative for Centers of Excellence; new building for the Polymer Research Institute.

  About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

James J. Bohning is professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he was a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and has presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was the foundation’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. He is currently a visiting research scientist and CESAR Fellow at Lehigh University. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.

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