We are saddened to announce the death of Professor Emeritus Richard Steinhardt.
Rick received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1966 and spent a year as a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge University before joining the Berkeley faculty in July 1967 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Zoology. During 1979-80 he was appointed as a Miller Professor, and in 1981 he was named an Overseas Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge. Rick was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1992. He retired June 30, 2005.
Rick was a neurobiologist who worked in the area of cellular and developmental physiology using molecular, biophysical and cell biological approaches to understand how intracellular signals control cell structure and function. He was affiliated with the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute for a number of years.
Rick had wide-ranging scientific interests, and he had an impressive ability to enter new fields of investigation and immediately make important contributions. Many of these investigations involved determining how cytosolic calcium was used to regulate cellular functions. During his postdoctoral year he collaborated with Peter Baker and Alan Hodgkin in the discovery of Na/Ca exchange in neurons, a mechanism that was later determined to be critically important for regulating neurotransmitter release, heart muscle contraction and visual transduction. At Berkeley, Rick formed fruitful collaborations with Robert Zucker and Roger Tsien to help in developing new optical methods for measuring cytosolic calcium concentrations and then use these methods to identify the critical roles of calcium in activation of oocytes following fertilization and in regulation of cell division during mitosis. Later work with his wife Janet Alderton and others identified the roles of calcium in other cellular functions. They discovered that many of the pathologies associated with muscular dystrophy could be attributed to an abnormally elevated leak of calcium into skeletal muscle cells. They also found that when the plasma membrane of most any cell is wounded, it has the capacity to seal itself, and that calcium and calcium-regulated cytoskeleton and organelle fusion were involved in this most basic cell function. These discoveries were published in many highly visible and oft-quoted papers
Rick's career at Berkeley was also characterized by his vigorous and forthright involvement in academic administration (e.g., Academic Senate Committee on Committees and the Committee on Research), often from a background position as an individual commentator or a member or chair of a committee. His sometimes blunt but invariably constructive ideas and criticism were almost always totally correct, frequently way ahead of those of his colleagues, and often prescient. He put his notions of what was best for the institution above his own interests.
Rick was also known for a gruff exterior that sometimes obscured his good-hearted and friendly nature. You could always count on hearing interesting and engaging facts and ideas during any conversation.
Among Rick’s many extracurricular interests were flying, (he was a licensed pilot), and boating. He was never more relaxed than when piloting his boat on the San Francisco Bay. Following his retirement, Rick and Janet moved to Orcas Island in the San Juans where he became an accomplished photographer and indulged his passion for boating.
He will be missed.