Richardson attended Virginia Tech and received a B.S. in 1958 and a M.S. in 1960. He received his PhD from Duke University in 1965.
At the time of his death, he was the Floyd Newman Professor of Physics at Cornell University, although he no longer operated a laboratory. From 1998 to 2007 he served as Cornell's vice provost for research, and from 2007 to 2009 was senior science adviser to the President and provost. His past experimental work focused on using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance to study the quantum properties of liquids and solids at extremely low temperatures.