UMass Professor Emeritus Roger Porter, First Head of Polymer Science and Engineering Dept., Dies at Age 70

AMHERST, Mass. - Roger S. Porter of Amherst, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts and first head of the school''s renowned polymer science and engineering (PSE) department, died Aug. 25 after a long illness. He was 70.

A native of Minnesota, Porter was educated at the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Washington, Seattle. He worked in industry for a decade before joining the UMass faculty in 1966. He retired in January 1997 after 30 years as a faculty member, 10 of which were spent as head of polymer science and engineering.

"Science has lost a giant, and polymer science has lost a friend and colleague," said Richard Farris, current head of polymer science and engineering. Farris called Porter "a visionary of polymer education who has won numerous research awards for his scientific contributions to the field, and who was so important to the establishment of the very successful department which has brought so much recognition to the University."

"Not only did Dr. Porter nurture the polymer science and engineering department from its early days, and help bring it to national and international prominence, he also continued to conduct his own extremely successful research, and to teach and mentor students," said Linda Slakey, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. "He excelled in all of these areas, and the University greatly benefited from his contributions."

One of Porter''s major inventions was a polymer strand that is 10 times stronger than steel, but more flexible. The strands are made of polyethylene, a common plastic used to make products ranging from soda bottles to Frisbees to bulletproof vests. His other achievements included two books, three patents, and 450 journal publications.

Porter was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from the University in 1996. He also received the Chancellor''s Medal, the highest award bestowed by the campus in recognition of service to the University.

He received numerous research awards, most recently the Paul J. Flory Award in Polymer Education, which was bestowed on him last spring by the American Chemical Society (ACS). Porter was a member of several professional societies, including the ACS, the Society of Rheology, and the American Physical Society, of which he was a fellow.

Professor Frank Karasz, who met Porter in 1954 when both were graduate students, recalled his international reputation and his "intense commitment" to the polymer science and engineering department.

In a letter written for the department''s newsletter last autumn, Porter joked about the humble beginnings of the department: "It was easy to be the first head of PSE in 1966, since I was the only one in the department." He noted that when the department first began, much of its mail was erroneously delivered to the political science department, because the departments'' names were so similar. "I performed most every function in the early days, including student recruiting. I met our very first recruited student at the bus station and carried his bags into his lodgings in Prince House." The department put down roots in 1966 and became official in 1974, with Porter serving as head until 1976. After stepping down as department head, Porter continued his research on the characterization and rheology of liquid crystals and other polymers.

Over the years, the department evolved dramatically, from that first student and a cluster of offices in the basement of Goessmann Laboratory, to more than 150 researchers whose laboratories and offices are housed in the new Silvio O. Conte National Center for Polymer Research. The department has been consistently rated the best of its kind in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.

He is survived by his wife, Catharine, a faculty member in the University''s consumer studies department, and four children: Laura Keith of Auburn, Washington; Ruth Tilman of Las Vegas, Nevada; Margaret Porter, of Amherst, and Stephen Porter of Amherst.

Services are private, and the family has requested no flowers. Donations may be made in his name to the Hospice of Hampshire County. A memorial symposium is being planned by his former colleagues.