Photo: Charles Quigg '09
Richard D. Fink
George H. Corey Professor of Chemistry
An accomplished scientist, teacher and Dean of the Faculty; a student of music, art, history, literature and baseball; and a devoted husband, father and grandfather, Dick Fink personifies the liberal arts at its finest. Intellectual breadth and wit have been his hallmarks during his 43 years at Amherst. When he wasn’t shooting atoms at molecules in the lab, or teaching lessons on thermal energy in steam tunnels, he was helping to build Amherst’s science center, to invent a program for faculty research funding and to establish the College’s child-care center. In a different vein, President Julian Gibbs said of Professor Fink, “I have never seen anyone hit a baseball harder or farther.”
Dick Fink’s research is situated in the fields of nuclear fission, molecular beam chemistry and photochemistry, and in environmental air pollution. He has sought to understand how the molecules that make up the substances of our lives and the environment are held together and how they are transformed by energetic impacts. Most recently, he became interested in environmental chemistry and developed and taught courses on chemical influences on the environment and on energy issues. His research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Petroleum Research Fund. His honors include the Professional Development Award, Faculty Fellowships and Senior Research Fellowship, all from the NSF; the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship; and the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation Teacher-Scholar Award. In 1988, Japan’s Doshisha University awarded Dick Fink an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
As one of the primary architects of Chemistry 11, Professor Fink’s impact has extended to thousands of students who have taken this course over four decades. As a teacher, he has garnered the awe and admiration of science and non-science majors alike. The lessons that he teaches endure. Robert Field ’65, Haslam and Dewey Professor of Chemistry at MIT, fondly recalls that, during his thesis defense, Professor Fink was unsatisfied with his answer to a question, and an argument ensued. Not only was Professor Fink right, Bob says, but his approach to that question has played a crucial role in Bob’s career. Robert Field’s thesis began this way: “To Dick Fink, the alchemist, for his ability to transform certainty into doubt.” Dick Fink’s many achievements have convinced us that he is indeed magical. We wish him well with his future explorations.