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Robert Hugh Cole papers

 Record Group
Identifier: MC-04

Scope and Content Note

The one carton of material spans the years 1935 to 1993, primarily from 1941 to 1979. The papers consist of correspondence, publications, awards and certificates, newsclippings, visual materials, a photograph album, reports, lecture notes, telegrams, a guest book and memorabilia.


  • 1924-1993

Language of Materials

The records are in



Open: materials are available for research.


Copyright: Permission to publish material from the collection must be authorized by the Institution Archivist.

Biographical Information

Robert Hugh Cole was born in 1914 in Oberlin, Ohio and died in 1990 at Brown University, Rhode Island, where he was Professor Emeritus. He had taught and done research at Brown for 43 years since first joining the faculty in 1947, then becoming chairman of the Chemistry Department in 1949. His wife was the former Elisabeth French and his older brother, Kenneth, was his mentor and collaborator.

At Oberlin College, Kenneth Cole, already an established physiologist, introduced his brother to research. Bob’s first scientific paper, co-authored with Kenneth, appeared in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments in 1932 while he was still a sophomore. The collaboration continued for the next ten years and yielded the famous publications on what is now called the Cole-Cole plot, which provides a representation of the dielectric properties of a substance.

After graduating from Oberlin College in 1935, Bob began graduate studies at Harvard University; he was the only experimentalist to work with Professor J.H. van Vleck, who later received the Nobel Prize in Physics. Bob earned his Ph.D. in 1940, and became an Instructor in Physics at Harvard.

Bob’s long association with WHOI began in the summer of 1941 when he became a research supervisor in the Underwater Explosives Research Lab (UERL), where he worked with Paul Fye, James S. “Spike” Coles and others. He wrote his first book, Underwater Explosions, based on his research at WHOI. This research examined the fundamental physical properties of shock wave development and propagation and theories concerning shockwaves. In 1948 Cole received the President’s Certificate of Merit for this research in aid of the war effort.

In 1946 Cole went to the University of Missouri as Associate Professor of Physics. In 1947 he was persuaded to accept an Associate Professorship at Brown University and two years later was made Chairman of the Chemistry Department. In 1956 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and also published Physical Principles of Chemistry with Spike Coles, also formerly at WHOI’s UERL. He became a member of the WHOI Corporation in 1966 and was also an Associate.

His contributions to research through publications with his students, colleagues and his individual efforts were recognized in several ways. In 1975, he was awarded the Irving Langmuir Prize, the highest national award in chemical physics. The Brown Chemistry Department, also in 1975, appointed Cole the John Howard Appleton Lecturer, an honor that until then had been bestowed only on guests from outside Brown. Other honors awarded to Cole included a Fulbright Lectureship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Science Foundation Senior Fellowship.

Additional biographical information can be found in the WHOI Biographical file and in memorial tributes (f 20).

(Adapted from Robert Cole Memorial Minutes at Brown University, 1991)


3 boxes (2.75 lin. ft.)


The Robert Hugh Cole papers consist largely of personal and professional correspondence files with information on his fellowships, lectures and conferences, and Cole’s work at WHOI on underwater explosions.


Arranged in two series:

List of Series:

Custodial History

The custodial history of the materials is undocumented.

Acquisitions Information

The Robert Hugh Cole papers were given to the Institution Archives in 1990 and 1991 by John Berberian, Cole’s former student and collaborator at Brown University, and include material from accessions 91-3, 91-4, 91-5, 2004-44 and 2007-20.

Related Material

See Cole's Biographical file. There are also related UERL materials, specifically air-blast gauges used by Cole, Arnold Arons and William Shultz (vault doc. box 94-5).

Separated Material

A photograph of Cole receiving an award, and a small lantern glass slide of 2 boats were added to his biographical file. Three general radio resistors as used by WHOI’s UERL were added to the instrument collection.

Removed to Cold Storage Archives Vault:

  1. Photographs, explosive shots surface plumes, 1942-1944
  2. Negatives, targets with shot holes, 1942-1944
  3. Photographs, general, B and W, 1942-1944
  4. Photographs of underwater explosions, as used in Underwater Explosions book, B and W, 1948

Processing Information

Second-level processing completed by Brenda Rocklage and Margot B. Garritt in 1996. The folders were untitled, placed in a broad chronological arrangement at the time of accessioning, and listed. They have been given subject titles and placed in an alphabetical arrangement, chronologically within subject. The ‘Biographical File’ folder was placed at the beginning of the collection. Materials were placed in acid-free folders and boxes and labeled, and photographs were placed in archival sleeves. Newsclippings were photocopied, metal staples and paper clips were removed.

A Guide to the the Robert Hugh Cole papers, 1924-1993
Brenda Rocklage and Margot Garritt
December 1996
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written inEnglish

Repository Details

Part of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Data Library and Archives Repository