A Token of Gratitude to a Friend and Mentor

An older man in a red blazer smiles.
Robert Luise (PhD ’70)

Robert Luise (PhD ’70), contributed this endowed fund in support of graduate student research as a gift in memory of and in gratitude for his friend and mentor, Professor Walter Hugo “Stocky” Stockmayer SB ’35, PhD ’40. Stockmayer, a pioneering polymer scientist, was a brilliant teacher and a beloved friend to Luise, as well as a member of the MIT Chemistry faculty from 1943 – 1961.

Luise, a Boston native, and an alumnus of Boston Latin School, received his bachelor’s degree in 1964 from Rensselaer Polytechnic institute, earned his master’s degree from Dartmouth College in 1966, and his PhD in Chemistry from MIT in 1970. He met Stockmayer while at Dartmouth, and Stockmayer had a profound impact on the rest of Luise’s career.

“At Dartmouth, I was originally a business student working in the Chemistry Department as a teaching assistant,” Luise recalls. “After a few weeks, I decided to change direction. I approached Professor Stockmayer one day during a lab, and inquired about a possible transfer to Chemistry. He said he had an NSF project that was expiring soon, and agreed to take me on as his graduate student for that project. That happened within a week. Thus, in 5 minutes, Stockmayer determined my career.”

This redirection to Chemistry proved to be written in the stars. “Chemistry is in the family,” said Luise. His nephew, John Battiste (PhD ’96), is also an alumnus of the Department of Chemistry. Battiste is the son of Luise’s late sister, Anita, who received her degree in Chemistry from Bryn Mawr College, and her late former husband, Merle, a Chemistry professor at the University of Florida.

When he enrolled at MIT to pursue his PhD, Luise’s graduate student adviser was Professor Isadore Amdur. “[Amdur was] a great teacher, and a great person, like Stocky,” said Luise. Luise later learned that Amdur was also Stockmayer’s first choice as research advisor when the latter was a PhD student in the late 1930’s.

After earning his PhD, Luise spent nearly a quarter century in fibers and plastics at Dupont Experimental Station. He authored or co-authored a number of important patents and publications, most notably in the field of thermotropic (liquid crystalline) copolyesters. The latter included invention of the process for heat strengthening fibers of thermotropic copolyesters to the highest levels ever seen in polyesters, as well as preparation of novel transparent advanced composite materials from those fibers. Additionally, he showed that the frictional properties of these copolyesters in plastics form were determined by their glass temperature.  Upon his retirement from Dupont, Luise formed his own company, consulted worldwide, and edited/authored the book “Applications of High Temperature Polymers” , CRC Press, 1997, which is in the MIT Library, and in its second printing.

Luise is passionate about supporting students, and has been a fervent supporter of the Boston Latin School, where he has also endowed a fund in support of Science in Stockmayer’s memory. He has been very active in the MIT Alumni Association over the years, serving as President of the MIT Club of Delaware Valley, and Chair of the MIT Educational Council in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1990, he was elected to the Board of the MIT Alumni Association representing the Tri-State area. He was delighted to finally be able to celebrate his 50th Reunion in 2022, by attending a live Commencement after two virtual years. “This was important to me,” he explained, “As I graduated mid-year in 1970, and did not attend commencement at that time.”

He credits Professor Stockmayer and the MIT Department of Chemistry for making his career possible, and carries fond memories of his mentor’s array of talents. “Stocky was a fine pianist, and played chamber music in Norwich and Hanover,” Luise recalls. “My wife, Evelyn, is an accomplished musician – a violist, who has played both chamber and orchestral music in her career. I recall times when Stocky was visiting Wilmington on consulting, and he came over and played chamber music with her.”