Summarized by Kent Larsen
Mormon Explosives Chemist Melvin Cook Dies
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- LDS inventor and scientist Melvin A. Cook died
Thursday at LDS Hospital from complications from surgery at age 89. Cook was
a former professor of metallurgy at the University of Utah who invented
so-called "slurry explosives," a safe, waterproof explosive widely used in
mining. Cook was the father of U.S. Representative (R-Utah) Merrill A. Cook.
Cook was born in 1911 in Garden City, Utah, on the shores of Bear Lake. He
studied at the University of Utah and earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry
from Yale in 1937. He then went to work for the DuPont Co., moving to New
Jersey, where he met and worked with well-known LDS scientist Henry Eyring.
During World War II, Cook developed and published his "Theory of
Detonation," which is still considered one of the major developments in the
history of explosives. He incorporated it into his "Science of High
Explosives," published by the American Chemical Society in 1958. He was also
a member of the "Brain Trust" during World War II, along with 25 of the
leading US Scientists in the physical scientists, including Eyring,
Einstein, Bethe, Gamow and Kistiakowsky, working primarily on explosives and
In 1946, Eyring became Dean of the Graduate School at the University of
Utah, and encouraged Cook to join him there, arranging an offer of Full
Professor of Metallurgy with tenure in 1947. While there he continued
working with industry, serving as a consultant to more than 100 companies
throughout the world. He was asked to work with a committee of scientists
investigating the Texas City disaster of 1947, in which two shiploads of
ammonium nitrate fertilizer exploded in the Galveston, Texas harbor, killing
more than 600, including 300 scientists at a Monsanto facility there.
Cook's greatest invention came in December 1956 , when he discovered a new
type of blasting agent, the "slurry explosive," an unusual mixture of
ammonium nitrate, aluminum powder and water. The invention converted the
commercial explosives industry from using more dangerous dry explosives like
dynamite to "safe slurry." The invention led to Cook forming with others
IRECO, a company to commercialize slurry explosives. Cook left the
University of Utah and spent most of the 1960s as a President of the
company, until 1972 when he was succeeded by his oldest son, M. Garfield
Cook. But proxy battles pushed Cook out of the company by 1974.
Cook also ran into some conflicts with the scientific community over his
religion. Cook was asked by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, then an Apostle in
the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve, to write
an introduction to his book "Man: His Origins and Destiny." But criticism of
the book among the scientific community led to become more deeply involved
in Science and Religion issues.
In a well-publicized seminar at the University of Utah, Cook publicly
claimed that evolution violated the second law of thermodynamics. The
assertion gained him notariety, with the press carrying an article about the
seminar nationwide. The next year the American Association for the
Advancement of Science carried a vigorous debate on the issue in a
conference in Switzerland, and a formal conference was held at
Philadelphia's Wistar Institute to debate the subject.
These concepts led Cook to further explore issues of Religion and Science,
and Cook wrote three books in this area, "Prehistory and Earth Models,"
Scientific Prehistory" and "Science and Mormonism," the last co-authored
with his son, M.Garfield Cook.
After being run out of IRECO and its successors, Cook and his family went on
to found other ventures, including the consulting firm Cook Associates with
his son, current US Representative Merrill A. Cook. By 1983 he had
effectively retired, although he sometimes taught at the Salt Lake Community
During his career, Cook received many awards, including the Nitro-Nobel Gold
Medallion in 1968 [this is not the same as a Nobel Prize], the Chemical
Pioneer Award from the American Institute of Chemists, 1973; and the E.V.
Murphee Award from the American Chemical Society, 1968. He also patented
over 100 inventions.
Scientist-Inventor Melvin Cook, 89, Dies
Salt Lake Tribune 13Oct00 P2
Biography of MeIvin A. Cook
Salt Lake Community College
By Mikhail Khodorovskiy