University of Massachusetts Amherst

Polymer Science and Engineering

Richard J. Farris, 73
UMass Distinguished Professor


LEEDS - Richard J. Farris, whose scientific imagination, exactitude and intensity inspired his students, colleagues and family, died on Tuesday, May 25, 2010, in Leeds. He was 73.

Born in Williston, ND, on July 6, 1936, Professor Farris was the son of Lebanese/Syrian parents, the late Sophie Bunijm George and the late John A. Farris. He grew up in Williston and Sacramento, CA. He joined the U.S. Navy, where he was trained as an aerographer's mate, studying meteorology and oceanography at the Naval Air Station in Norman, OK, and Lakehurst, NJ. He was stationed in the Philippines and San Diego, CA.

After his naval discharge, he met Kathleen McGagin while she was attending Sacramento State College. They married in August of 1959 in Fresno, CA, and their marriage lasted over 50 years, until Farris' death. In 1959, Professor Farris was hired by Aerojet, a rocket and missile manufacturer near Sacramento. Initially employed as a weather forecaster, he soon began working as a laboratory technician and then as a physicist involved in the development of solid rocket fuels. He earned the first of his U.S. patents in 1968, and though he had no undergraduate degree, gained admission to the graduate program at the University of Utah where he received both his Master's (1969) and PhD (1970) degrees in civil engineering, and was named the Outstanding Student of the Year by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He minored in mathematics, a subject for which he had a lifelong love. In 1970 he returned to work at Aerojet as a senior engineering specialist and later began lecturing at the University of California, Davis.

In 1974, he accepted a faculty appointment at the graduate program in the Department of Polymer Science & Engineering at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. There he joined an enthusiastic assembly of polymer researchers, which included R. Stein, W. MacKnight, F. Karasz and R. Porter, and over the subsequent years, this list greatly expanded. Even before graduate school, he discovered the 'Farris Effect', which explains how the sizes of particles in a mixture affect the mixture viscosity. Professor Farris' publications have been cited in scientific literature over 5000 times.

His research interests included experimental mechanics, high performance fibers, rubber elasticity and thermodynamics, particulate composites, and recycling of elastomers, such as tires.

During his 33 years at UMass, Dr. Farris graduated over 60 PhD. candidates, numerous Master's candidates, and hosted dozens of postdoctoral associates, visiting professors and scientists from around the globe. He authored over 300 research publications and held 16 U.S. patents. He served as department head for years and was promoted to Distinguished University Professor in 1991. He retired in 2002, but remained active with the department and other consulting ventures. In recent years, much of his research focused on fire-safe polymers, and he led a team of UMass researchers working together with government and industry labs.

He consulted, conducted research and served on advisory committees for numerous government agencies, including NASA, branches of the U.S. military, the National Science Foundation, as well as private industry. During his career, Dr. Farris received many professional awards, including the UMass Samuel F. Conti Faculty Fellowship Award (1991), the Roon Award of the Federation of Societies for Coating Technology (1998), the Malcolm Pruitt Award of the Council for Chemical Research (2003), the George Stafford Whitby Award for distinguished teaching and research (2005), and the Founder's Award from the Society of Plastics Engineers (2006). Nevertheless, he was most proud of the postgraduate accomplishments of his students.

He will be sadly missed by those he leaves behind, including his wife of over 50 years, Kathleen M. Farris, of Leeds; four daughters, Jennifer Farris and son-in-law Rab Terry of San Francisco, CA, Teresa Farris and son-in-law Chad Kindregan of Topsfield, Mary Farris and son-in-law Philip Dietz of Cincinnati, OH, and Melissa Farris and son-in-law Graham Caldwell of Brooklyn, NY. He was a magical grandfather to Zachariah and Riley Dietz and Mia Farris Kindregan. He is also survived by two sisters, (Mary) Jean and brother-in-law Robert Brine, and Carole and brother-in-law David Sharkey, both from California.

The Farris family and the Polymer Science and Engineering Department are establishing the Richard J. Farris Memorial Scholarship Fund. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, contributions in Dick's memory be made to the University of Massachusetts and sent to the Polymer Science and Engineering Department, 120 Governors Drive, Amherst, MA, 01003.