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Emeriti Chemistry Professors Pay it Forward

Blumsteins Endow New Scholarship

Rita and Alex Blumstein

Emeriti chemistry professors Rita and Alexandre Blumstein with the memoirs they wrote about their families’ experiences during World War II.

12/15/2015


Education is not something that Alexandre and Rita Blumstein, both Holocaust survivors, ever took for granted. That’s why the emeriti chemistry professors decided to endow a new scholarship for chemistry students.

The Blumsteins were born in Poland in the years immediately before World War II, Alex in 1930, Rita in 1937. Unlike the vast majority of Polish Jews, their immediate families survived the war, but not without great hardship: Rita was sent with her family to a Soviet work camp, and Alex’s family spent 18 months in hiding in a cramped, earthen cellar in a rural village close to the front lines. For four years, the teenage Alex had no schooling.

Their circumstances didn’t entirely ease with the war’s end, given Poland’s lingering anti-Semitism, which, Rita says, “made us foreigners in our own country.” 

Both families eventually immigrated to France, and Alex and Rita found themselves scrambling to adjust to new languages and schools. Both went on to study at the Sorbonne, where they met. 

“Chemistry became my lifeline,” says Alex. “I had my beloved chemistry, and I could pour all my energy into it and forget about everything else.”

Chemistry also became their passport to the United States, where they moved in 1960 when Alex took a job with a Pennsylvania engineering firm. In 1964, he joined the faculty at Lowell Technological Institute, where, as the first faculty member to receive a National Science Foundation grant, he became something of a founding father of the department’s research efforts. Rita joined the department in 1974, and worked to bring more young women into the sciences. While they formally retired in the 1990s, both remained active at the university for many years.

“When I look back on my life,” says Alex, “the university has done so much for me. It took a refugee and gave me an opportunity.” 

The scholarship the Blumsteins have created will provide that same opportunity — that lifeline — to a new generation of chemistry students.