Richard S. Stein

Born: August 21, 1925 | New York, NY, US

Richard Stein starts his oral history interview by reflecting on his education Brooklyn Technical High School and Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. Stein accepted a Textile Foundation fellowship at Princeton University. Stein was appointed to an assistant professorship in the chemistry department of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the Polymer Research Institute. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0071
No. of pages: 57
Minutes: 188

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
17 June 1987
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts

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 PhD 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. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1945 Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, New York BS (magna cum laude) Chemistry
1948 Princeton University MA Physical Chemistry
1949 Princeton University PhD Physical Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Cambridge

1948 to 1949
National Research Council Fellow

Princeton University

1949 to 1950
Research Associate

University of Massachusetts

1950 to 1957
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
1957 to 1959
Associate Professor of Chemistry
1959 to 1961
Professor of Chemistry
1961 to 1980
Commonwealth Professor
1961 to 1989
Founder and Director, Polymer Research Institute
1980 to 1989
Charles A. Goessmann Professor


Year(s) Award

Fulbright Visiting Professor, Kyoto University


International Award, Society of Plastics Engineers


Honor Scroll Award, New England Chapter, American Institute of Chemists


Applied Polymer Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society


Bingham Medal, Society of Rheology


Polymer Physics Award, American Physical Society


Chancellor's Medal, University of Massachusetts


Polymer Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society


Whitby Lecturer, University of Akron


Polymer Science Society of Japan Award

Table of Contents

Childhood and Schooldays

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

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

Graduate Study at Princeton

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

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

University of Massachusetts

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 was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been 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 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 CHF’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. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.  Bohning passed away in September 2011.