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RG 30/331 - Richard C. Schoonmaker (1930-)
Biography/Administrative History

Richard Clinton Schoonmaker was born in Schenectady, New York on December 21, 1930, the son of James C. (d. 1980) and Edna Neuville Schoonmaker (d. 1972). After graduating from Mt. Pleasant High School (Schenectady) in 1948, Schoonmaker matriculated at Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut) and was awarded a B.Eng. (chemical engineering) degree in 1952. During the following year, he undertook graduate study in chemical engineering at Princeton University (Princeton, New Jersey) before entering the United States Navy where he served as an Ensign and Lt. (j.g.) for three years. In 1956, he undertook graduate studies at Cornell University (Ithaca, New York) and earned the Ph.D. degree in physical chemistry in 1960. During his graduate studies at Cornell, he was a research assistant, 1956-58, and, in 1958-59, a General Electric pre-doctoral fellow. In 1959-60, he conducted post-doctoral research in physics at Columbia University (New York City).

In July 1960, he accepted a position as assistant professor of chemistry at Oberlin College (Oberlin, Ohio). He was promoted to the rank of associate professor in 1964 and to professor in 1969. He served as chairman of the department of chemistry, 1969-73 and 1978-79. The holder of a National Science Foundation grant (1980-81), he was a visiting professor of chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley. As well as teaching there, he continued his research on the dynamics of gas-surface interactions and catalysis.

Professor Schoonmaker’s fields of specialization were chemical physics and thermodynamics. More specifically, his research interests lay in high temperature chemistry, the dynamics of gas-surface interactions, catalysis, mechanisms of condensation and vaporization, and molecular beam scattering from surfaces. During his scholarly career, he received numerous grants and fellowships to support his research projects, including a grant from the Research Corporation of New York (1960-63); a three year research grant by the United States Army Research Office (Durham, North Carolina) to research High Temperature Thermodynamics and Kinetic Studies of the Vaporization of Inorganic Compounds (1963-66); and a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to support continuing vaporization studies (1965-68).

In 1970, Professor Schoonmaker began a long-term project: The Mechanism of Condensation: Scattering of Molecular Beams from Surfaces. This research was supported by six grants from the American Chemical Society’s Petroleum Research Fund (1971-92) and by two grants from the National Science Foundation (1979-81 and 1984-86).

Research and expertise took Professor Schoonmaker to Europe several times. In 1966-67, he was a National Science Foundation Science Faculty Fellow at the Mathematical Institute, Oxford University (England); and, in 1973-74, a British Science Research Council Visiting Senior Research Fellow in the department of physics at York University (England). In 1987-88, he was a Max Planck Fellow at the Fritz Haber Institut der Max Planck Gesellschaft (Berlin, Germany).

For Professor Schoonmaker, no division existed between teaching and research. “All of my research at Oberlin has included students, and I think some of the very best teaching we do in chemistry occurs one-on-one in the research laboratory.” (Schoonmaker quoted by Carol Ganzel, editor, the Oberlin College Observer.) During Mr. Schoonmaker’s Oberlin College career, over fifty students worked in his laboratory; many supported by funds designated for “student colleagues” in Professor Schoonmaker’s research grants.

Knowledge of molecules was combined with his strong environmental interests and concerns to benefit students both inside and outside science. In the Oberlin College course “Chemistry and the Environment” (Chem 151), Professor Schoonmaker explained the structure and environmental significance of chemical species; for example, how problems such as acid rain, pesticide pollution, energy conversion, and depletion of the ozone layer occur and why they should be of major concern to society. As an Ohio Visiting Scientist (sponsored by the Ohio Academy of Science) Professor Schoonmaker carried his knowledge and insights to high schools in Oberlin and the greater-Cleveland area.

In addition to co-authoring a book, Composition, Reaction, and Equilibrium, Professor Schoonmaker shared the results of his laboratory studies with the international scientific community in more than 35 articles and in over 25 presentations and research seminars in the United States and abroad. (A detailed bibliography is appended.) Moreover, he served on the Editorial Advisory Board for Accounts of Chemical Research, as an educational consultant for the Pennsylvania State University system, and as a Visiting Associate for the American Chemical Society’s committee on professional training. He was a referee for research proposals to the Petroleum Research Fund and to the National Science Foundation, and for manuscripts for several research journals, including the Journal of Applied Physics, the Journal of Physical Chemistry, the Journal of Chemical Physics, the Journal of Inorganic Chemistry, and Surface Science. As a member of the American Chemical Society, he served on the Research Award Canvassing and Research Award Selection committees. He was also a member of the American Physical Society and the Society of the Sigma Xi.

Both in and out of the laboratory, Professor Schoonmaker enjoyed encounters with nature. He has backpacked in the Brooks Range on the North Slope of Alaska, climbed in the Rockies and Sierra, and rafted down the Colorado River. Abroad, he hiked in the Swiss, German, and Italian Alps and trekked to the Tibet border through Mustang, a remote area of Nepal. In these and many other outdoor adventures he was accompanied by his wife, Dina (nee Bikerman; BA Bryn Mawr, 1956; MAT Oberlin, 1969), whom he married on February 13, 1956. They have four children, all of whom share their parents’ enthusiasm for nature: Karen (b. 1956; Bryn Mawr), Dirk (b. 1958; Swarthmore), Timothy (b. 1960; Carleton), and Jonathan (b. 1961; Ohio University).

Following retirement from Oberlin College in 1993, he returned to teaching for one semester and later accepted a second one-year appointment as a Visiting Professor and Research Fellow at the Fritz Haber Institut der Max Planck Gesellschaft (Berlin, Germany).

In retirement Dick and Dina continue to travel widely in the U.S. and abroad, stay physically active, enjoy a rich cultural life, and maintain their historic home at 270 East College Street in Oberlin.

Sources Consulted
Faculty file of Richard Schoonmaker, Alumni and Development Records (RG 28/3)
Oberlin College Seal -