Former Duke Trustee Robert Richardson, a Nobel Prize winner, died Tuesday in Ithaca, N.Y. at age 75.
Richardson was the Floyd Newman professor of physics at Cornell University and had previously served as Cornell’s vice provost for research. He was also a member of Duke’s Board of Trustees from 1997 to 2007 and was on the board’s executive committee from 2002 to 2007. In 1966, Richardson received his Ph.D. from Duke after studying with physicist Horst Meyer for six years.
Richardson shared the 1996 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work in low-temperature physics. He was the first to discover the property of superfluidity in helium-3 atoms, a breakthrough he made in 1972 after building upon his work at Duke as a graduate student. Prior to this discovery, Richardson’s experimental work included studying the quantum properties of liquids and solids at extremely low temperatures through nuclear magnetic resonance.
In his early years as a Reserve Officers Training Corps undergraduate at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Richardson intended to study chemistry until finding his color blindness a barrier in reading indicator solutions. Because it was early in his career, he decided to change paths and pursue physics instead.
Richardson was known to frequently visit campus and attend Duke basketball games. In 2012, the University awarded him an honorary degree. He married Betty McCarthy, also a physics graduate student at Duke, in 1962 and had two daughters, Jennifer and Pamela.
Duke’s flags flew at half-staff on Tuesday in honor of Richardson.