AMHERST, Mass. – Congressman James McGovern’s office recently awarded Certificates of Special Congressional Recognition to two longtime members of the University of Massachusetts Amherst chemistry faculty, Richard S. Stein and George R. Richason, Jr., both of Amherst, for more than 60 years each of “distinguished, outstanding and invaluable service” to the department and the university.
Craig Martin, chair of the chemistry department, says, “Professors Stein and Richason are ‘founding fathers’ of the modern University of Massachusetts Amherst. Their contributions both to the chemistry department and to the university overall have been seminal, benefitting many generations of its students and contributing to the economic vitality of the Commonwealth. We continue to be inspired by their dedication to excellence in world-class research and in the education of our students.”
According to a recounting of their contributions to the chemistry department, Richason, a Turners Falls native, enrolled in classes in 1933 at the then Massachusetts State College. Though a talented basketball player, he chose chemistry over sport and graduated in 1937, adding a master’s degree in 1939. Richason taught at Turners Falls High School until 1942, enlisted in the US Naval Reserve and served as instructor of electronics and radar engineering at MIT through 1945, returning to Turners Falls the following year.
Meanwhile, Stein, of Long Island, studied chemistry at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute where he made some of the first light scattering studies of polymer dimensions in solution. After graduating in 1945, Stein went to Princeton to study polymers, earning his doctorate in 1948. After a brief period away, he returned to Princeton in 1949 to work on plastics.
Partly in response to a surge of post-war students in 1947, chemistry chair Richard “Doc” Fessenden convinced his former pupil, Richason, to join the faculty. Funding for science increased after the war, and it became clear that plastics and polymers were “the next big thing.” Stein came to UMass to continue his polymer studies. As Fessenden’s health declined, Richason picked up the departmental reins, maintaining its high quality and growing it from a few hundred students per semester in the 1950s to about 1,500 in the early 1970s.
In this period, 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 to let research money come directly to the campus.
Both men played instrumental roles in the chemistry department’s “dynamic decade” from 1960–70, when the university grew from just over 5,000 students to just over 15,000, with a corresponding increase in general chemistry. Richason and Stein are credited with helping to make sure that the department had proper research facilities and protocols to accommodate the increase.
In 1962, Richason became associate head of the department, a post he held for 32 years, until 1994. Both men received recognition on campus for their work. Stein became Commonwealth Professor and in 1961, he founded both the Polymer Research Institute and the Research Computing Center. In 1963, Richason was named the second recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award, the university’s highest faculty teaching honor. By tradition, he has carried the mace at commencement for more than 35 years, one of only two professors to do so.
In 1980, the chemistry department awarded Stein 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, highly selective groups representing “the best of the best” in internationally recognized research, Martin points out.
Thanks to Stein’s expertise and active promotion of the campus, with Congressman Silvio Conte’s help the university received $56 million in the 1980s to build a national polymer research center. Over his career Stein mentored more than 140 master’s and doctoral candidates.
Richason retired in 1976, but this only meant he reduced his work day to part-time. In 1991, he received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater. Known for more than 60 years as a very faithful fan of UMass Amherst athletics and member of the athletic council, in 1974 he received a special citation from the UMass Amherst Alumni Association and in 1982 was elected to the campus’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
In 1999 Stein received the highest honor bestowed by the Material Research Society, the von Hippel Award, 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.”