Paul Richards received his B.A. in 1956 from Harvard and his Ph.D. in 1960 from Berkeley. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Cambridge University he did physics research at the Bell Telephone Laboratories. He joined the Physics faculty at Berkeley in 1966.
Richards has been a visiting scientist at Cambridge University, the Max Planck Institutes for Solid State Physics at Stuttgart and Radio Astronomy at Bonn, the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, the University of Paris, the Paris Observatory, and the University of Rome.
With students and collaborators, Richards has published more than 300 papers on infrared and millimeter wave physics, including the development of measurement techniques, especially new detectors, and the application of these techniques to many physical problems. Problems studied include superconductivity (energy gap measurements, Josephson effect, detectors), magnetic resonance, biophysics, surface science and especially, measurements of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. Richards has contributed to the development of important detectors and mixers for the millimeter and submillimeter bands. He invented and developed the SIS quasiparticle heterodyne mixer, the stressed Ge photoconductor, and generations of composite bolometers with metal film absorbers. His team made the first balloon observations with 3He-cooled bolometers. He first proposed the miniature adiabatic demagnetization refrigerator for cooling bolometers and made the first astronomical measurements with 100 mK bolometers.
Richards is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received fellowships from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the J.S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and three times from the Adolph C. and Mary Sprague Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science. He was named California Scientist of the Year in 1981, and Berkeley Faculty Research Lecturer in 1991. He received the Button Prize of the Institute of Physics (UK) for Outstanding Contributions to the Science of the Electromagnetic Spectrum in 1997, the Frank Isakson Prize of the American Physical Society for Optical Effects in Solids in 2000, the Dan David Prize for Cosmology in 2009, the 2009 IEEE Medal for Applied Suprrconductivity, the 2011 Medal of the Schola Physica Romana and the Tomassoni Prize of the University of Rome for Cosmology and the Cocconi Prize of the European Physical Society for Particle Astrophysics in 2011.