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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Bob Cochran, 89, creator of nuclear engineering department dies

Retired nuclear engineering professor, creator of the Department of Nuclear Engineering and builder of the nuclear reactor, Robert “Bob” G. Cochran died Saturday at 89. He was admitted to St. Joseph’s Regional Health Center Tuesday with pneumonia.
Cochran headed the department for 22 years after coming to Texas A&M in 1959. Back then, the University was the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas.
“Everyone else in the U.S., at that time, was into theoretical physics,” said professor Cochran’s son, Dr. Robert G. Cochran Jr. “Texas A&M wanted an applied approach, an engineering department as opposed to theoretical.”
Cochran revolutionized the world’s way of thinking about nuclear energy, his son said.
“Up to that point atomic energy had only been used as a warhead, and people hadn’t thought about uses for it in peacetime,” Cochran Jr., said. “He consulted with the military; he helped to develop the idea of the nuclear power plant. He designed and helped them to build the Nautilus submarine.”
He initiated the first undergraduate nuclear engineering program in the world at the University.
“He also taught reactor safety; he wrote the criteria for reactor safety; he set up the testing reactor operators all over the world basically,” Cochran Jr. said. “He developed graduate level classes and moved into an undergraduate nuclear engineering program.”
Cochran was selected to receive the Charles W. Crawford Award for his service to the College of Engineering in 1981, and was professor emeritus in 1983.
He co-authored The Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Analysis and Management – the nuclear engineering textbook still used to teach students today – in 1990, and co-authored the second and third editions in 1999.
“He’s published innumerable articles,” his son said. “He continued to mentor students after retirement. A lot of students thought a lot of him; he had students from, essentially, every country in the world.”
Cochran was consultant to the Atomic Energy Commission, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, University of Missouri, University of Maryland, University of Kansas, Princeton University, Sundance Wyoming Nuclear Power Reactor, and Convair in Fort Worth, Texas, during his tenure at the University.
“Because of his work with the military, he had top secret security clearance,” his son said. “The reactor [he built] was one of the largest to date; it was top of the line.”
His accomplishments were numerous, and insurmountable, Cochran, Jr. said.
“He was a man ahead of his time, now we’re turning to nuclear power because we need it. Fifteen new power plants were permitted to be constructed. Nuclear energy cuts the need for coal and fossil fuel. Nothing is greener than nuclear energy if it’s used right, and that’s what he spent his life making sure we could do.”
The Zachry Engineering Center is slated to create a Robert G. Cochran Library.
“He would talk about how nuclear engineering is useful to the world; that was important to him. He said nuclear energy is much more beneficial to the world than dangerous. It really helps the world a lot. He also taught me about nuclear engineering as it is applied to health, MRI scanning,” said his grandson, Bill Cochran, Network Administrator for Bryan Research and Engineering, Inc. “That’s a good legacy; to provide electricity and help people continue to live well.”
After serving in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1946, Cochran earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from Indiana University. He received his doctorate in nuclear physics from Pennsylvania State University in 1957.
“He loved Texas A&M,” said his granddaughter Clover Cochran. “His favorite joke was ‘What do you call an Aggie six months after graduation? Boss.”
FuneralStudents are welcome to attend the funeral at A&M United Methodist Church, 417 University Drive, May 11 at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, his family asks that attendees make a donation to the church.

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