Rivlin began his career in academia in 1953, when he became a professor of applied mathematics at Brown University, where he taught and conducted research until 1967. In 1963, he co-hosted, with R.S. Marvin, the Fourth International Congress on Rheology, in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1967, Rivlin moved to Lehigh University, where he remained until his retirement in 1980.
Rivlin made crucial contributions to the theories of finite elasticity, stability, constitutive equations for elastic and viscoelastic solids and fluids, internal variables, non-Newtonian fluids, electromagnetism, fracture, waves of linear viscoelastic materials, and crystal physics. Unlike his academic competitors, however, he did not publish books, so his intellectual legacy is distributed among hundreds of papers written over a period of 60 years of exceptional scientific productivity.
His colleagues, concerned that without books his seminal contributions might dissolve into the huge ocean of scientific literature, collected and published his work, together with an extended autobiographical sketch of his personal recollections and amusing comments on the dark side of academic life. As he said, “God created the professor, and the devil created the colleague” (Collected Papers of R.S. Rivlin: 2 vol., edited by G.I. Barenblatt and D.D. Joseph).
Rivlin is one of a few giants who created the branch of theoretical physics and engineering now known as nonlinear continuum mechanics. Much of his work deals with fundamental problems that were being investigated by specialists in mechanics, such as William Prager and Daniel Drucker at Brown University; however, Prager and Drucker had little or no influence on Rivlin’s work.
Clifford Truesdell, on the contrary, had a great deal of influence on Rivlin. Truesdell was the leader of a group of talented mechanicians and mathematicians who called their work “rational mechanics.” In the early days, Rivlin and Truesdell had cordial relations based on mutual respect. Later, their relationship deteriorated, although many have traced their conflicts back to the 1960s. Truesdell’s followers, especially Walter Noll, were encouraged to develop mechanics