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Richard K. McMullan (1929-2002)

Richard McMullan died of heart failure on March 2 during his sleep. In the twenty years up to his retirement in 1994, he was a staff member in the Chemistry Dept at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. There he did much to develop the neutron diffraction facilities for chemical crystallography. This included the writing of diffractometer software, the design of vacuum systems for crystallizing gases and unstable compounds and the building of cryostats and furnaces for neutron data collection at temperatures from 15K to 1500K. These facilities formed the basis for his many collaborations with other Brookhaven staff and a multitude of visitors who came from all over the world. Dick’s modesty, patience, enthusiasm and dedication to the highest scientific standards were well known to all those who had the benefit of his friendship and partnership.

In 1956, Dick obtained his PhD at Iowa State U. in inorganic chemistry. He came to the U. of Pittsburgh in 1958 in order to take up X-ray crystallography. There, he joined G.A. Jeffrey and his group and spent a decade in systematic studies of a series of intricate clathrate hydrates, notably those with alkylammonium and sulfonium salts as guests. During 1967-69, Dick was in Germany as a Humboldt Visiting Fellow working with Proffessors Mootz and Saenger on the structures of cyclo-dextrin complexes. From then until his move to Brookhaven, he was with Prof. Sundaralingam at the U.of Wisconsin, working on the structure of t-RNA.

His life style was very frugal. He once said that all his worldly possessions could be packed into his beloved Buick. His hospitality was famous. Visitors thronged to his apartment, often as many as six crowded for dinner around his tiny table (23” wide, 35” long, flaps up). Usually it was a visitor who cooked up some specialty from far away. All was noise and merriment until about 10pm when Dick would announce it was time to go back to the reactor.

When it was decided to hold a Pittsburgh Diffraction Conference in honor of his retirement, I was advised that preparations needed to be well beyond the point of no return before informing Dick. Otherwise he might well decline to attend. In fact, I believe he was delighted. He made only one condition, namely that he would not have to give a speech. However, at the conference dinner, after so many had paid tribute to him, Dick found himself on his feet speaking easily and warmly in response.

Bryan Craven