Eberly College of Science

Penn State community mourns loss of professor Mercedes Richards

The Eberly College of Science and the Penn State community mourn the loss of Mercedes Richards, professor of astronomy and astrophysics, who died Feb. 3. A memorial service for Richards will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 13, at the State College Friends Meeting, located at 611 East Prospect Avenue in State College, Pa. The service will be held as a Memorial Meeting for Worship in the Quaker tradition. All are invited.

Richards joined the Penn State faculty in 2002 as a professor of astronomy and astrophysics. During her time at Penn State she won many awards for her research, including a Fulbright Distinguished Chairs Research Scholar award and the Musgrave Medal. Her Fulbright award allowed her to conduct research on interacting binary stars at the Astronomical Institute in Slovakia during the 2010–11 academic year. The Musgrave Medal, awarded annually by the Institute of Jamaica to Jamaican natives who have contributed greatly to the fields of art, literature, and science, was awarded to Richards in 2008.

Richards' research focused on computational astrophysics, stellar astrophysics, and exoplanets and brown dwarfs. She was most known for her research in the tomography of binary star systems, where her work was considered pioneering in the field.

She was elected as an officer for many astronomical organizations, including as president of Commission 42 of the International Astronomical Union, as a councilor of the American Astronomical Society, and as a member of the Board of Advisers of the Caribbean Institute of Astronomy.

In addition to her academic service and research contributions, Richards and lecturer of chemistry Jacqueline Bortiatynski cofounded and served as directors for the Summer Experience in the Eberly College of Science, a six-week summer research program designed to engage low-income high school students in science research. She also served on the Eberly College of Science’s Climate and Diversity Committee, an organization that works to create a welcoming and accepting environment for all members of the college, including faculty, staff, postdoctoral researchers and students.

Prior to joining the Penn State faculty in fall 2002, Richards served on the faculty of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. She was appointed as assistant professor of astronomy there in 1987, promoted to associate professor in 1993, and to professor of astronomy in 1999. In addition, she was a visiting scientist during the 2000-2001 academic year at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Richards earned her doctoral degree in astronomy at the University of Toronto in 1986, her master's degree in astronomy at York University in Toronto in 1979, and her bachelor's degree in physics at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica in 1977.

Richards is survived by her husband, Donald Richards, a professor of statistics at Penn State, and her children, Chandra and Suzanne.


The Eberly College of Science and the Penn State community mourn the loss of Mercedes Richards, professor of astronomy and astrophysics, who died Feb. 3. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated February 12, 2016