Dr. Solomon, who joined Penn in 1960, was the first James M. Skinner University Professor of Science at Penn. While serving as the first Faculty Master of Van Pelt College House--this university's first college house--he also became the first head of the University Scholars Program in 1974.
Among his many honors were his election to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; a Guggenheim Fellowship; and awards including the Society of Experimental Psychologists' Warren Medal for research, the Monie A. Ferst Award of Sigma Xi, and a Distinguished Achievement Citation from Brown University.
Richard Lester Solomon took his A.B. from Brown in 1940 and began his graduate work immediately, but after earning the master's in 1942 he entered wartime service as a research scientist for the Office of Scientific Research and Development. For one of his projects, the redesign of the B-29 fire control system, he received a patent which he donated to the government.
After World War II he returned to Brown to complete his Ph.D. in 1947, and taught for a year there before joining Harvard's Department of Social Relations as assistant professor. Early in his career he became known not only for his research in perception, motivation, conditioning and learning, but for the creation of new courses that drew on interdisciplinary sources. The very first popular course at Harvard, The Acquisition of Values, blended philosophy, social anthropology and social psychology, conditioning, learning and motivation. He became a full professor at Harvard in 1953.
In 1960 Dr. Solomon moved to Penn, in the Department of Psychology and the Institute for Neurological Sciences. He took a leading role in the field's "new look" in perception, avoidance learning in dogs and people, the effects of punishment on subsequent behavior. the interaction of Pavlovian conditioned reflexes with instrumental behavior, and the conditions for establishing "learned helplessness" in dogs. As early as 1965 he had begun comprehensive coverage of the phenomena of drug addiction.
While sharpening and testing his own opponent-process theory of acquired motivation, he became a legend in the field as a teacher and mentor who identified and motivated outstanding students. He is especially remembered for his Research Seminar, attended by undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows who gave reports on current articles in journals and led discussions on the design and development of a variety of experiments. By the time he retired in 1984, Dr. Solomon had published some 65 papers and supervised 35 doctoral dissertations, according to Dr. John Sabini, chair of psychology--including those of two present Penn faculty members who were listed among the "ten most prominent living psychologists" in an American Psychological Association survey some five years ago. The two are Dr. Martin E. Seligman and Dr. Robert Rescorla, the present James M. Skinner University Professor of Science and dean of The College.
One undergraduate who took his course and chose psychology as her profession was President Judith Rodin, who said on learning of his death, "He was a brilliant scientist, an extraordinary mentor, and a very humane and gentle person."
Dr. Solomon his survived by his wife, Maggie; two daughters, Janet Solomon and Elizabeth Marks; a brother, David; four nieces and a nephew. The psychology department's plans for a campus memorial service will be announced at a later date.