R. Stephen Berry (1931 - 2020)

It is with great sadness that we acknowledge the passing of R. Stephen Berry on July 26, 2020. He will be deeply missed in Telluride and around the world.

Berry co-founded TSRC with Peter Salamon in 1984 with one meeting and 18 scientists. Now attracting over 1,400 scientists annually, TSRC gathers together the world's brightest minds to ponder fundamental questions at the root of the world's greatest challenges.

"Telluride and TSRC are very important to each other," said Berry. "We scientists have always felt connected to Telluride and the wilderness surrounding it." He believed that scientists need to give themselves space and time to think, and there's no better place to be inspired than in the soaring Rocky Mountains.

Steve was an extraordinary man. His scientific contributions were vast, including work on measuring electron affinities, understanding structural transitions in clusters of molecules, and finite time thermodynamics. He was a pioneer of life-cycle energy analysis, and his impact on public policy is incalculable.

TSRC is proud to be among the lasting legacies of R. Stephen Berry.

If you would like to contribute an image or a memory in honor of R. Stephen Berry, please email info@telluridescience.org. To donate to the R. Stephen Berry Postdoctoral Fellowship Fund, please click the donate link below.

Berry Remembered

Telluride Daily Planet, TSRC Remembers Steve Berry

University of Chicago, "One of the Most Influential Chemists of his Generation"

Hyde Park Herald Obituary, "Stephen Berry, 'Genius' chemist and clean energy advocate, is dead at 89"

The Journal of Physical Chemistry, 2002, Biography of R. Stephen Berry

He was in good company from the start: "Regeneron / Westinghouse Science Talent Search, Finalist 1948"

UChicago News, "Chicago pollution inspired scholar’s career as chemist and environmental activist"

"R. Stephen Berry Tribute Symposium, 2015 "

University of Chicago, Irene C. Hsiao, The Chemists Club, Winter 2017 "We Can Do It Ourselves:: R. Stephen Berry Talks Macro-to-Micro, Thermodynamics, and Environmental Policy "

Peter Salamon – TSRC Co-founder, Professor at San Diego State University

Steve Berry showed me that doing science was fun. In Steve’s world, science usually came mixed with hiking or skiing in lovely locales, Telluride providing the ultimate choice.

Steve taught me how to question a scientific presentation to the point where the audience can carry off several juicy problems as homework. This was the workshop style that Steve, Bill Reinhardt, and I incorporated into the early TSRC workshops. Steve’s favorite part was always the wrap-up, where he would gleefully fill all available boards with the open questions left in the workshop’s wake.

As a first-year graduate student looking for an advisor, I wanted to work on the differential geometry of thermodynamics. When I approached Steve Berry, he responded in typical Steve style with a question, “While you’re at it, can you put time in?” It was spring of 1973 and our collaboration on finite-time thermodynamics had begun. It continues to this day. It was only recently that I learned how he had been thinking about finite-time thermodynamics long before our collaboration, but somehow never mentioned that part. I think he did not want to steal the thunder from Bjarne Andresen’s, Abe Nitzan’s and my contributions.

Steve’s originality of thought was broad-ranging and his many trailblazing endeavors often brought him in opposition to accepted dogma. His strength of conviction arguing with countless rejections and referees was an important example for me and for anyone with trailblazing on their mind.

Steve’s generous spirit and good nature, as well as his exceptionally accommodating family made the members of his academic family and even colleagues feel like they fit right in. I wonder how many small children, besides my own pre-schoolers, thought Steve and Carla were their grandparents. The membership in the academic Berry family started with the annual group parties and led eventually to the decadal Berry Fests. We were all hoping to celebrate his 90th, but alas, that is not to be.

We will all miss Steve greatly but at least we got to share the ride.

Wendy Brooks – TSRC's first Executive Director, Founder of Telluride Academy

Sunday July 26. Noon. I open my facebook page and there it is:
R. Stephen Berry. 9h.
My wonderful life has ended.
I passed peacefully in the presence of my family.
Live well and believe in Science.
Steve.

He was so old and so vibrant that we thought he might live forever, encouraging the best in each of us as he was wont to do.

If there are architects of the “new Telluride”, R. Stephen Berry would be named one of them. As a companion to music festivals, we have a strong science presence. Workshops that initially hosted single digits now host thousands and feed the summer economy in a healthy and robust fashion. I was in the Telluride Academy office at the Telluride School -the era of one building for K-12 and Camp Telluride in the summer. Two interesting looking men walked into our humble office. They said they were scientists from the Aspen Institute and they wanted to start a summer research center down here in Telluride. It would be a bit different from the Aspen Institute in that all levels of scientists would gather together. Post docs would listen to full professors and then they and captains of industry would listen to the post docs: scientific research would be advanced more rapidly when three generations of researchers from the four corners of the world collaborated.

The men were also interested in our computer lab (the only one in a high school in western Colorado, designed and staffed by the THS math teacher Irwin Witzel): six Macintoshs and a dot matrix printer. Finally, Dr. Berry and his associate Peter Salamon were firm believers in the ability of scientists to think more clearly and farther outside the box when they were alone on high mountain trails in remote corners of the Rockies. Or fishing the streams that flowed through town. And Telluride had these assets. And the Academy could serve as their administrative wing. And so the Telluride Summer Research Center was born. In the summer of ’84, 7 scientists inaugurated Colorado’s new think tank for theoretical physicists and chemists with a three-week long workshop on finite-time thermodynamics. It was so well received that the group decided to host three workshops the following summer.

A decade later a thousand people from academia and industry and from Asia, Europe and North and South America attended one of perhaps twenty different workshops. Mini workshops for Telluride Academy campers and community lectures were offered by various visiting scientists. On the 4th of July, the scientists routinely joined the parade, offering up floats and marching groups that represented the absurd and surreal. They often won the coveted blue ribbons. Stephen Berry and Peter Salamon were often present and their presence was always felt. They thrived in the success of this new model.

When the TSRC folks arrived for the summer, they always brought cutting-edge technology for us to share. They brought the first fax machine that anyone in Telluride had ever seen. School and government officials would knock on the door of the Academy office asking permission to send an important document quickly to a faraway place. They had cell phones before the rest of us did and “portable” computers to say nothing of a myriad of programs that they generously shared.

In 1989, Dr. Konopka and colleagues held one of TSRC and America’s first workshops that sought to decode DNA; they spent three weeks in the Sheridan Hotel, courtesy of Grant McCargo exploring this intriguing new field of study. Years after on the fourth of July the lunar module landed on the moon; parts of it were built by the robotics team that was marching in the parade that morning. When a successful landing was announced, the whole parade shouted for joy. Stephen held the leadership role for many years, approving workshops and determining areas for expansion. At the same time, he was primarily a full professor at the University of Chicago and an advisor on nuclear “issues” with President Ronald Reagan. His wife, Carla taught science education to future teachers at Roosevelt University in Chicago and then began teaching summer workshops called Science Detectives for Telluride Academy third graders.

Steve and Carla were a huge presence in Telluride for several decades. They would spend 4-6 weeks in Telluride town and up on Sunshine Mesa where the family camped on their holdings in the hourglass meadow and down at the old dairy barn. Stephen loved to don his old waders, climb in his classic blue jeep and fish the local streams – always thinking about his science. He organized excursions for visiting Asian and European scientist friends, often with Rowdy Rodabush up on the west meadow.

He was a Renaissance man of the finest breed and a friend and mentor to thousands in the global scientific community. Stephen had a way about him that friends will always remember. Stephen gifted Telluride with an identity that has only grown over the years: as a center for serious scientific study.

Jack Simons – Founder of the TSRC Telluride School of Theoretical Chemistry

In 1972 I submitted a research proposal to NSF titled "Theory of the Electron Affinities of Small Molecules". It got funded after one round of consideration but the main referee did not like the title because I was really developing a theoretical METHOD (now called Equations of Motion Method) for directly calculating electron affinities. I am pretty sure that referee was Steve, but I never asked him about it. Nevertheless, this taught me a lesson I still struggle with- to be precise with one's words.

In the early 1970s, Steve was one of the only theory people from the chemistry community studying negative ions, so my start in this field was built very much upon his shoulders and I learned very much from studying his work.

In the 1980s, Steve's Telluride workshop environment helped me broaden my skills a bit into the field of molecular dynamics when I attended my first TSRC event. Steve called the young hot shots in the field "chaos kids" because at that time they were introducing the concepts of chaotic motions into chemical dynamics. The people who taught me a lot on this topic include Rick Heller and Bill Reinhardt.

I know Steve has accomplished much more than I am mentioning, both in science and in leadership, but I want to thank him personally for the great influence he had on my career in its early years.

Thanks for listening,
Jack Simons

Berry Images

Please click below to view images of R. Stephen Berry.

Berry Image Gallery, TSRC

Berry Image Gallery, Wales Group

Local Legacies

Town Talks:  In 1991, R. Stephen Berry and Peter Salamon started the TSRC Science Lecture Series to reach out to the community and share some of the extraordinary science that occurs at TSRC. Talks were geared toward a community audience to engage the local community and help increase the understanding of the value of the work that happens at TSRC as well as the understanding of how the scientists benefit from and appreciate the Telluride environment. The name of the talk series has evolved through the years and is now know as the Telluride Science Town Talks. To honor Berry, each year the TSRC Board President selects a speaker to give the R. Stephen Berry Lecture. Steve himself gave the inaugural R. Stephen Berry lecture in 2003 with a talk titled “The Deepest, Simplest, Most General and Most Puzzling Science: Thermodynamics.”

Pinternship Program:  After years of supporting local interns through an NSF grant, Berry backed the creation of a local internship program, now known as the Pinternship Program managed and supported by the Pinhead Institute. In 2006, Berry was the first scientist to accept and host a Pintern. Today, the program offers approximately 30 internships per year in a wide variety of interest areas.

Punk Science: To inspire and engage local and visiting children, Berry launched the weekly Punk Science program in 2007 under the auspices of the Pinhead Institute. Each summer, TSRC scientists contribute kid-focused presentations that open eyes and minds to the possibilities of science. The popular program now often attracts over 100 children per week.

Steve's Reflection, 2007

"The first workshop that became the origin of the Telluride Science Research Center (then the Telluride Summer Research Center) had as its topic Finite-Time Thermodynamics," wrote Steve. "This is an extension of traditional thermodynamics whose stimulus were the questions, 'Is it possible to define and construct analogues of traditional chemical potentials - natural limits to the performance of systems - for processes constrained to operate at finite times?' After all, the traditional potentials are based on the ideal, 'reversible' processes that operate infinitely slowly, hardly a useful limit for any real system. If it is possible in principal to have such finite-time limits, what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for constructing them? How can they be evaluated? How can we find processes that approach those limits? The motivation for this approach was very specifically finding ways to achieve better efficiency in the use of energy, ways that would allow us to make and use things with significantly less energy than we have been using for those purposes. Still further behind that was a motivation to reduce the impact of our energy-using activities on our environment, on the extent we pollute the air and water, or damage ecosystems, even on how we affect climate. The first Telluride workshop was by no means the first to address this topic; for example, there had been prior workshops at the Aspen Center for Physics on the subject.

"The origin of the idea of TSRC was in 1983, when we'd had a very successful workshop at the Aspen Center for Physics on Finite Time Thermodynamics. It was so successful that some people wanted to have another in 1984. We'd had one in 1981 in Aspen, I believe, and we could have had one in 1985, but, if my memory holds, we couldn't get a slot at the Aspen Center for Physics for 1984. At least we couldn't get one at a time when people could come. Then Peter Salamon said this, or something close to it, to me, 'We both know Telluride and like it. Why don't we try to have a workshop there?' I thought that was a brilliant idea. I said I would be very happy to help, but that Peter would have to take prime responsibility for the organizing. We held that first Telluride workshop for three weeks, and it was indeed a great success. We decided to have at least two in 1985, one on finite-time thermodynamics and one on clusters, and maybe a third. Bill Reinhardt had just moved to Penn, and we thought perhaps he was a bit homesick for Colorado, where he'd been before the move. Indeed, he liked the idea and organized a workshop on chaos for 1985, so there were indeed three that year. Wendy Brooks did all the local arrangements. I think that was the first year that her son Darius was the general helper. It was that year, I believe, when we formalized the structure into the Telluride Summer Research Center. I will have to check my files to see when Moshe Shapiro, from the Weizmann Institute in Israel, asked 'Why is it the Telluride SUMMER Research Center? Why not the Telluride SCIENCE Research Center, with meetings in the Winter, too?' The answer then was that the only available venue was the old school in the summer months. Happily, that's all changed now.”

October 16, 2007, R. Stephen Berry, University of Chicago James Franck Distinguished Service

25th Anniversary - Steve's Reflection, 2009

In 2009, TSRC commemorated 25 years with a collection of memories from TSRC scientists. Below is Steve's reflection.

R. Stephen Berry Postdoctoral Fellowship

R. Stephen Berry believed strongly in the importance of diversity in science. From the start of TSRC in 1984, Steve made sure to include scientists in various stages of their career with the understanding that more minds from different perspectives are likely to bring about answers more quickly and more creatively than an homogenous group. In honor of Steve's commitment to postdoctoral participation at TSRC, the R. Stephen Berry Postdoctoral Fellowship will fund registration and related meeting expenses for awarded postdoctoral researchers. If you would like to contribute to the R. Stephen Berry Postdoctoral Fund, please click the donate button below. Thank you for your support.

Donate Now
Telluride Science Research Center
Post Office Box 2429, Telluride CO 81435
Tel: + 970.708.4426
Email: info@telluridescience.org
Back to Top