- c 1970 (Creation)
Level of description
Extent and medium
Name of creator
Robert Percival Cook, M.B., B.Chir., Ph.D. (Cambridge), B.Sc. (Melbourne), F.R.S.E., was born in Melbourne, Australia, on 14 April 1906. He was educated at Trinity Grammar School, Kew, Melbourne and Scotch College, Melbourne, before attending the University of Melbourne between 1922 and 1925, graduating with a B.Sc.
In April 1926 he entered the Department of Pharmacology, University of London, to work with Professor Alfred Joseph Clark. In October of that year he went to Caius College, Cambridge where worked in the Biochemical Laboratory with Professor Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins. He then spent some time at L'Institut Pasteur, in Paris, where he met his wife, Matilda. He then returned to Cambridge and, in 1930, received his Ph.D. The years from June 1932 to August 1935 were spent in industry, working on citric acid. In October 1935, he returned once more to Cambridge and 1938 began studying medicine.
In 1940 Cook took up his first post as Lecturer in Biochemistry at what was then University College, Dundee (from 1954 Queen's College, Dundee and from 1967 the University of Dundee) in the then Department of Physiology under Profosser Robert Campbell Garry. At this point Cook was the sole biochemist in the department. The department was soon after renamed, on Cook's suggestion and with Garry's consent, the Department of Physiology and Biochemistry. An honours degree course in biochemistry was started in session 1946-1947.
During this time, Cook received his D.Sc. (1942) and M.B., B.Chir. (1944). Over the next 30 years he would become a well-known member of the academic community in Dundee. His wartime research concerned nutritional values of foods in local institutions, and later he became an international authority on cholesterol, editing a definitive book and pursuing widely-quoted research, much of which he carried out on himself. He was rumoured to have consumed 12-egg omelettes, prepared by his wife, in order to measure blood and excretory values. In 1958 'Cholesterol: Chemistry, Biochemistry and Pathology', which he both edited and contributed chapters to, was published and was quickly recognised as a key work on the subject. Cook's work ultimately paved the way for Dundee to become a major centre for life sciences teaching and research.
In March 1966, largely thanks to Cook's endeavours over many years and with the strong support of Professor George Howard Bell (who had succeeded Garry in 1947), full departmental status was given to Biochemistry with Cook appointed as head of the much expanded department. He also played a key role in the development of the new Biological Sciences Institute which would house the new department and provide excellent facilities for it. Cook's efforts also led to the founding of a Chair in Biochemistry, but he refused to be considered for this post as he felt a younger outside candidate was needed, and ultimately Peter Garland was appointed to the Chair in 1970. Nevertheless in January 1972, Cook was elected to a personal Chair in Biochemistry.
In 1973 Cook became Emeritus Professor following his retirement on health grounds. In 1974, along with his wife, he produced and published an annotated English translation of Claude Bernard's 'Phenomena of Life Common to Animals and Vegetables'. Away from academia, Cook retained a strong interest in Australia and was also also a keen collector of stamps and other materials relating to postal history. He also had a strong interest in, and knowledge of, art. He died in Dundee on 26 August 1989 and was survived by his wife, who died in 1998, and children. Writing of him in Contact, the University's internal magazine, in October 1989, his colleague Geoffrey Dutton wrote "He served this University very well indeed. We remember him with gratitude."