Nathan Henry Cook, Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, passed away from cancer on July 13, 2005 at his home in Eastham, Massachusetts, at the age of 80. He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Collie, two daughters, two sons, and nine grandchildren.
Born in Ridgewood, New Jersey, he left high school at 17 (describing himself as country bumpkin naïve) and enlisted in the Navy, serving in the Pacific theater during WWII for two-and-a-half years as a quartermaster aboard the destroyer USS Newcomb. His ship participated in the liberation of the Philippines and in the sinking of a Japanese battleship and downing of two aircraft; his ship was later hit by a kamikaze attach which took many lives. As a war hero, he was awarded the Purple Heart and ten Bronze Stars.
Upon his return to New Jersey, Nate completed high school and attended MIT where he earned his doctorate in mechanical engineering in 1955, while also working in the metal-cutting laboratory founded by Professor Milton C. Shaw (now retired in Tempe, Arizona). Scores of students worked in the laboratory over the years and the graduates were know as Sectores Metallorum (metal cutters). Nate later was appointed the head of the laboratory and taught at MIT for 33 years, retiring in 1985.
In 1968, he and his family spent a year at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India. Enthusiastic world travelers, they enjoyed taking cruises with the family and traveling to various exotic locations. He and Collie also served as housemasters of the MacGregor House on the MIT campus from 1970 to 1985, where they warmly welcomed and offered their friendship to hundreds of undergraduate students, serving as a surrogate family and hosting weekly home-cooked dinners, an experience which they described as “a wonderful opportunity to support the students.”
Nate published numerous papers on the mechanics of metal cutting, materials processing, machine tools, and instrumentation. He was also the author of three textbooks: Manufacturing Analysis (1966), Mechanics and Materials for Design (1984), and Physical Measurement and Analysis (with E. Rabinowicz, 1963); in addition, he contributed to An Introduction to the Mechanics of Solids (1972). He was a Founding Member of NAMRI/SME and an Emeritus Member of CIRP. After his retirement, he was actively involved at Advanced Material Technology, Inc. (AMTI), a company founded in Watertown, Massachusetts, by some of his former students, working as a software developer, general counselor, and a board member of the company.
With a constantly curious mind, Nate was a rare and multitalented individual and an inventor, holding many patents. He achieved so much in his life: he designed his own house in Cape Cod, investigated alternative energy sources, designed and built force and torque dynamometers to measure cutting forces in real time, designed multifunctional equipment to be installed on a lathe and used for experiments on material properties and machining, worked on various technologies such as testing prosthetic implants, biomedical force platforms, and reducing noise from submarine propellers, and modified a 1954 sedan into a pickup truck.
In addition, Nate played the guitar and was an amateur carpenter, gardener, oil painter, bird watcher, boat builder, clam digger, and a consultant to numerous companies over the years. He loved the sea and was an avid sailor and boatman. He regularly kept in touch with his shipmates, and even in his last years he greatly enjoyed their annual reunions commemorating their service as “tin can sailors.”
To those of us who knew him well, Nate was a very special person: a quintessential gentlemen with high personal integrity, very intelligent yet modest, courteous, open-minded, and fair. When he spoke, everyone listened. With a towering presence, pleasant demeanor, and sense of humor, he was jovial and always good company. His laughter rose above the din in the room while telling many stories (of various colorations), including some from WWII, such as the one about how an enemy shell went right between his legs while he was on the deck of a ship.
An esteemed colleague, Nate was a dedicated and great teacher, not only regarding matters technical but also on the joys of life, how to interact with people, and how to deal with the real world and its constant challenges. In spite of numerous offers for high positions in industry, he preferred to remain in academia and spend quality time with his students, nurturing their professional growth. His family and basic human values were far more important to him than technical accomplishments and professional recognition, abundant though they both were during his long career. His office door was always open, welcoming the passers-by young and old.
Nate was a very thoughtful man with deep sensitivities, at times difficult to conceal behind his gentle smile, moustache, and wire-rimmed glasses. Among his legacies are scores of former students, many of whom now occupy high positions in academia and industry around the world. They remember well his lively lectures, his global outlook and broad knowledge and insight into a wide variety of topics, his keen mind, his ability to listen, his unfailing kindness, valuable advice and counsel, and his genuine interest in their success and well-being.
He knew well the meaning of the words: To teach is to touch a life forever.
Farewell, dear colleague.