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Neville Cook

Neville G. W. Cook, a well-known expert on mining and the mechanics of rocks, died March 3 of cancer at his home in Lafayette. Cook, 60, had suffered from non-Hodgkins lymphoma for several years. A memorial was held March 18 in the Great Hall of the Faculty Club.

Cook held the Donald H. McLaughlin Chair in Mineral Engineering and was a highly respected professor in the Department of Materials Science and Mineral Engineering. He was known for his contributions to rock mechanics and the design of deep mines and underground nuclear waste repositories.

Cook pioneered the study of rock deformation and fracture, including how fractures grow and propagate, and how fractures reflect and refract acoustic and seismic waves. Much of his work was summarized in “Fundamentals of Rock Mechanics,” which he co-authored, and which became the Bible in the field, according to former student Stephen Blair, a geophysicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where Cook was a senior scientist.

“A lot of his work was fundamental to fields of mining, deep drilling and geological engineering,” said Blair. “He was able to distill very complicated problems down to their essence and could see problems from the small scale of micromechanics up to large-scale field applications.”

A skilled teacher and researcher, Cook was also an able administrator, serving on many committees to help shape the College of Engineering, the Berkeley campus, and his field of study.

Born in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1938, Cook received his doctorate in geophysics from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in 1962.

His doctoral research on analysis of rock failures surrounding excavations was incorporated into South African mining practices and led to his being tapped to start the Mining Research Laboratory of the Chamber of Mines of South Africa. He served as its first director from 1964 to 1976, during which time he studied various aspects of gold, diamond, platinum and coal mines. He also developed rapid-yielding props, which are still used today to give miners in deep mines the time to escape a cave-in.

In part because of his opposition to apartheid, Cook and his family decided to leave South Africa, and he joined the Berkeley faculty in 1976. He quickly established himself as a leader in the fields of rock mechanics, petroleum and mining engineering, hazardous waste disposal and geophysics.

Cook is survived by his wife Jennifer Cook of Lafayette and two children, Anna-Marie Cook-Polek of Piedmont and Paul Cook of Oakland, both of whom obtained master’s degrees in materials science and mineral engineering at Berkeley in the early 1990s.

Memorial contributions may be sent to the Berkeley Engineering Fund, 208 McLaughlin Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-1722. Please note on the check that the gift is designated for the Hearst Memorial Mining Building renovation project, in Cook’s memory.

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