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Richard H. Bube, expert in photoelectronic materials, dies at 90

Richard H. Bube, expert in photoelectronic materials, dies at 90

Bube helped pave the way for today’s solar cells and was a prolific author and lecturer who tried to bridge the gap between science and religion.
September 28, 2018

Richard H. Bube, 1927-2018 | Image Credit: Chuck Painter

Richard Howard Bube, professor emeritus of materials science and of electrical engineering, died in Santa Clara on June 9. He was 90 years old.

Bube’s research interests included photoelectronic properties of materials, including photoconductivity, luminescence, photovoltaic effects, semiconductors and solar energy conversion. He was also known as a committed Christian who sought to reconcile the worlds of science and religion in writing, lectures and campus leadership roles.

Bube’s early interest in luminescence would eventually lead him into solar energy conversion and solar cells, which remain major thrusts of the department today. He once said he wanted to help make solar power a viable alternative before the world runs out of oil, and his work with different types of crystalline materials helped move the field toward the more inexpensive and efficient solar cells in widespread use today.

William Nix, professor emeritus of materials science and a longtime friend and colleague, remembered Bube for his technical expertise and striking appearance. “He had an impressive bearing and struck his colleagues as a gentleman and scholar, straight out of central casting,” Nix said.

Richard “Dick” Bube was born Aug. 10, 1927, in Providence, Rhode Island. His father, Edward, was a silversmith until the Depression begat a job at a utility company. His mother, Ella, was a homemaker and blind for the last 40 years of her life. He graduated Brown University in 1945 with a ScB degree at 17 years of age. When he earned his doctorate in physics at Princeton University in 1950, he was just 22.

Prolific scholar

From 1948 to 1962, Bube served on the research staff at the RCA David Sarnoff Research Laboratories in Princeton, New Jersey, where he was group director in photoelectronic materials and penned his first technical book. That book, The Photoconductivity of Solids, went on to be translated into many languages and earned Bube a reputation in the field. In 1962, he joined Stanford University and would spend the next 30 years as a professor in the departments of Materials Science and of Electrical Engineering, serving as chair of the Department of Materials Science from 1975 to 1986. He retired in 1992.

During his career, Bube published six scientific books on photoconductivity and another seven on issues pertaining to Christianity and science. One of those books, Photovoltaic Materials, is still in print. He published 435 technical papers and 180 reviews, as well. Nix noted that Bube was such a prolific writer that his students whispered among themselves that he kept a typewriter at the lab to write as the data arrived. He was no less industrious as a teacher, guiding at least 56 PhD students to their doctorates.

As departmental chair, Bube gained a reputation for efficiency, a trait that allowed him to both run the department and continue his teaching and research. He is recalled for imbuing a sense of family in the department, evident in the many picnics, Christmas parties and doctoral celebrations he organized, and in the comings-and-goings newsletters he wrote while chair.

Bridging science and religion

Bube wrote several volumes and delivered dozens of lectures on issues concerning the perceived conflict between science and Christianity, seeking to help scientists better understand Christianity and vice versa.

At Stanford, he was a faculty sponsor of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and, for a quarter century, taught an undergraduate seminar on the relationship between science and Christianity. Likewise, he joined the American Scientific Affiliation, a society of scientists who are Christians, and edited its journal for 25 years.

In 1948, Bube met Betty Jane Meeker, his first wife. They were married 48 years and had four children. Betty died in 1997. Three years later, he met and married his second wife, Mary Anne Harman.

Bube is survived by his wife, Mary Anne, and his four children: Mark and Kathy Bube of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania; Ken and June Bube of Seattle; Sherri and Jim Tilley of Rochelle, Illinois; and Merry and Mark Issichopoulos of Rochelle, Illinois. He had five grandchildren: David (Kelsey) Tilley, Jonathan Tilley, Doug Issichopoulos, Janie Bube and Amy (Brian) Campbell. He is also survived by Mary Anne’s daughter, Elaine Bowers, and her partner, Bob Thompson, of Sacramento and Mary Anne’s son, Mark Harman, also of Sacramento, as well as her grandson, Brennan Harman.

Memorial donations may be made to Foothill Covenant Church (http://www.foothillcov.org) or to Palo Alto Christian Reformed Church (http://www.pacrc.org). Notes of condolence to the family may be sent to FriendsofRHBube@gmail.com.