October 31, 1923–July 8, 1990
BY JAMES L. KINSEY AND RAPHAEL D. LEVINE
RICHARD BARRY BERNSTEIN (“Dick” to all his friends) was one of a small group of young chemists who decided in the mid- to late 1950s that the time had come to ask what really happens when a chemical reaction takes place—what is it the atoms in the molecule do during the chemical change? Chemists had produced images, sometimes very colorful and often quite useful, in order to think about chemical reactivity, but Dick and fellow members of what they were pleased to call “the lunatic fringe” wanted a science of chemical dynamics. They sought an understanding of the motion of atoms in a reaction or collision in terms of the forces that operate between them. Dick turned his attention to the task of obtaining a direct experimental characterization of these forces, which had traditionally been obtained indirectly from the bulk properties of matter. He sought a more direct route with a special emphasis on the attractive and longer-range part of the force that serves to bring molecules together.
Richard Bernstein must be regarded not only as a founding member of the experimental study of chemical dynamics but also as one who set the stage and initiated the activity in the theoretical understanding. With his characteristic