Herrick Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering
In recognition of his international prominence as a researcher and his exceptional service to the engineering profession and Purdue University
Raymond Cohen has led an eventful life the past 87 years. Pearl Harbor was bombed during his freshman year at Purdue. He served in World War II as part of the 89th Infantry Division, which was the first to liberate a concentration camp. He had a distinguished academic career and received the highest honor bestowed by the governor of Indiana – the Sagamore of the Wabash award. However, Cohen doesn’t mention these things when asked of what career achievement he’s most proud.
“I’m most well known for directing Herrick Laboratories, for its expansion and growth to international prominence,” Cohen says. “This is my proudest accomplishment. Worldwide, everyone knows Herrick Laboratories. In Japan and China’s refrigeration and air conditioning industries, for instance, Herrick Laboratories is Purdue.”
The Ray W. Herrick Laboratories were founded in 1958 under the leadership of Cohen’s mentor, Professor Bill Fontaine. “He got everything started,” Cohen says. “I would have never wanted to start from scratch. When I took over, Herrick Laboratories already had a building and the beginnings of a good research program.”
Cohen did research through Herrick Laboratories in its early days. Not long after becoming a full professor in 1960, he and his graduate students solved a problem that was plaguing the refrigeration and air conditioning industry at the time – costly, catastrophic compressor valve failures caused by vibrations. Their published findings attracted international notice and put Herrick Laboratories on the map.
When Cohen became director of Herrick Laboratories in 1971, the timing was just right for expansion. “The industry was ripe,” he says. “There were very few industry-focused research centers within universities at the time.”
Consequently, Herrick Laboratories helped spur a shift in research funding nationwide. Corporations began footing much of the bill. “It’s only been since the economic downturn that the government has been the biggest funder of research at Herrick Laboratories,” he says. “When I retired in 1999, about 60 percent of our funding came from industry sources.”
Cohen made numerous other contributions to his field as well, such as publishing nearly 100 papers, starting two conferences that are still held biannually at Purdue and serving as founding editor of HVAC&R Research, a scholarly journal published by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). Even in his retirement, he continues to serve on ASHRAE’s Research Administration Committee, which means he spends much of his time reviewing thick grant proposals.
While Cohen could certainly boast of all that he’s seen and done, a genuine sense of humility appears to shape his outlook instead.
“I like to say that serendipity is very important,” he says. “Being at the right place at the right time. Seeing the opportunity and then taking it.”