Remembering Dr. Adler: Longtime faculty member known for his deep contextual knowledge and love of scientific history

Richard AdlerLongtime University of Michigan-Dearborn faculty member Richard Adler died Saturday, February 11. He was 69 years old.

Adler, associate professor of biology and microbiology, joined the faculty in 1977. Colleagues say he was known for his deep contextual knowledge.

“Dr. Adler’s courses were unlike any other,” said John Thomas, biology professor and chair of the Department of Natural Sciences. “He was a storyteller, and he wanted to help his students understand the people in history who were making these discoveries and how others perceived them at the time.”

Adler’s research interests were in biochemical virology of animal viruses and immunology of viral infections. He published more than 200 articles, which appeared in journals including Cell and Virology. And he wrote several well-received books about the history of science, including Cholera in Detroit: A History—which earned a 2014 State History Award by the Historical Society of Michigan for outstanding contribution to the preservation and promotion of state and local history—Victor Vaughan: A Biography of the Pioneering Bacteriologist, Typhoid Fever: A History and Robert Koch and American Bacteriology, which was published last fall.

“Rich could do research at the highest level,” Thomas said. “But he was much more interested in the human-to-human relationships. He chose this experience at UM-Dearborn for his career because his priorities were always his family and his teaching.”

Thomas said Adler—known for his firm grading—never stopped looking for ways to improve his teaching and how to connect new generations of students to the materials. In the early 2000s, when the department introduced supplemental instruction, Adler became a proponent of working with student mentors for more effective instruction.

He also served as a mentor for local high school students interested in developing projects in microbiology for high school science fairs and, since 2004, served as a judge for science fairs held annually at Webster Elementary School in Livonia, Mich.

Outside of the classroom, Adler was known for his love of America’s pastime. His office was filled with baseball memorabilia, including baseballs signed by famous athletes, world leaders and state politicians alike. He published two books on baseball—Mack, McGraw and the 1913 Baseball Season and Baseball at the University of Michigan—and numerous articles for the Society for American Baseball Research.

Adler earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and physics and a Ph.D. in microbiology and biophysics, both from Penn State University. He and his wife, Sally, had five children and seven grandchildren. He will be greatly missed by the faculty and staff of the Department of Natural Sciences.

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