Robert Shrock

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Robert Shrock
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Robert R. Shrock (1904-1993) was an eminent geologist and professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Robert R. Shrock (1904-1993) Obituary 1993

by Wendolyn T. Shrock, Northfield, Massachusetts and Robert E. Shrock, Setauket, New York

Robert R. Shrock, an eminent geologist and professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, died on June 22, 1993, at the age of 88, after a long struggle with cancer.[1]

Early Years and Education

Shrock was born in Wawpecong, near Kokomo, Indiana, on August 27, 1904, the son of Andrew Shrock and Stella Glassburn. He earned an A.B., an M.A., and a Ph.D. from Indiana University. He joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin and subsequently moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he stayed from 1937 until his retirement in 1975. His research in geology was concentrated in the areas of paleontology, sedimentology, and stratigraphy.

Besides his articles in research journals, Shrock was the author of several well-known books, including Index Fossils of North America (with H. Shimer), Sequence in Layered Rocks, and Principles of Invertebrate Paleontology (the latter with W. Twenhofel). In the course of his research, Shrock discovered many new species of fossils, and three fossils have been named in his honor.

World War II

During World War II, he worked on the War Production Board. From 1949 until 1965 he was chairman of the Department of Geology and Geophysics at MIT. Besides his accomplishments in geology during this period, he started a program of instruction and research in oceanography administered jointly by the department and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. A notable achievement during his chairmanship was the construction of a 20-story building for earth sciences, completed in 1965, with funds from the benefactors Cecil and Ida Green.

Honors and Awards

In addition, to the fossils named for him, Shrock's awards and honors included Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (awarded 1954), president of the Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists (SEPM) (1956-1957), president of the American Association of Geology Teachers (1959), an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Indiana University (1971), and the Twenhofel Medal from SEPM (1976).

Professional Career

He served as corporation member, trustee, and executive committee member of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which named an oceanographic research ship after him. He was a member of many professional geological societies and served on numerous review and visiting committees. Finally, the endowed Robert R. Shrock Professorship in the current Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at MIT is named in his honor. After his retirement, Shrock wrote two books on the history of geology: The Geologists Crosby of Boston and the two-volume work Geology at MIT: 1865-1965. His great energy and enthusiasm even toward the end of his life were further evidenced by his completion, at the age of 85, of the biography Cecil and Ida Green: Philanthropists Extraordinary.

Shrock is survived by his wife, Theodora Weidman Shrock of Lexington, Massachusetts; a daughter, Wendolyn T. Shrock, of Northfield, Massachusetts; a son, Robert E. Shrock, of Setauket, New York; and by two granddaughters, Alexandra Dominguez and Christine Lee Shrock.

A memorial service was held at MIT on October 1, 1993.

Biography Citation for SEG Special Commendation 1992

Contributed by M. Nafi Toksöz

Although it is difficult to convey within a short space the many diverse and cumulative achievements of Professor Robert Shrock, I am proud to have been entrusted with the task of writing about someone who is not only a man of principle, integrity and vision, but who has distinguished himself by his significant contributions as scientist, educator, philanthropist, and administrator.[2]

Robert Rakes Shrock, Chairman of the Department of Geology and Geophysics at MIT during the fifties and sixties, was born in 1904, the son of Andrew and Stella Shrock of Wawpecong, Miami County, Indiana. He grew up in a hardworking community, and graduated "With Distinction" in 1922. He won a Miami County Scholarship to Indiana University where his work toward a doctoral degree led him to investigate the controversial Silurian "domes" exposed along the Wabash and Mississinewa rivers in northern Indiana, a study that led to recognition of a new sequence of Silurian strata. Indiana University awarded Shrock a Ph.D. in Geology in 1928 and, 4 3 years later, in June of 1971, recalled him to receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Science.

Trained in invertebrate paleontology, stratigraphy and sedimentology, Robert Shrock began his academic career at the University of Wisconsin where he remained from 1928 through 1937, the year in which he left Madison to join the Geology Faculty at M.I.T. in Cambridge. It is Thomas Jefferson who wrote that "no duty ... is so trying as that of putting the right man in the right place:' The appointment of R.R. Shrock to M.I.T:s Department of Geology was one of those extraordinarily fortuitous occasions when the right man was placed in the right place and remained there for 38 fruitful years, during which time he was successively Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and Professor. During his chairmanship from 1949 to 1965, he brought about an extensive revision of the Department's curriculum that involved strengthening the basic science requirements, adding subjects in geochemistry and geophysics, and establishing a required summer field program. In 1956 he initiated together with Prof. Houghton, Head of Meteorology, a joint program in oceanography with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, a program which developed into the joint graduate-degree program that was formalized in 1968. M.LT:s first oceanographic research vessel was christened the RV R.R. Shrock in December 1965.

Soon after becoming Head of the Department of Geology, Shrock, in tandem with Cecil H. Green, then President of Geophysical Service Inc. of Dallas, Texas, organized a summer training program for geophysics students - the G.S.L Student Cooperative Plan - which operated for 17 years and gave some 350 students from 80 different U.S. schools an opportunity to get practical field experience in geophysical exploration. The plan proved to be a most successful coupling of industry and academia and has remained a model for the cooperative educational effort. During all the years at M.LT. Robert Shrock was consistently outstanding in his ability to recognize and seize the right moments for change and expansion. His vision led to the establishment of the M.LT. Geophysical Analysis Group project (GAG), whose work has incontestably had a major impact on exploration geophysics.

Robert Shrock contributed three substantial textbooks for use in his several subjects, all of which continue to be widely used both in North America a_nd abroad. As Consulting Editor he was responsible for 28 geological books for McGraw-Hill's International Series in the Earth Sciences and he also acted in a similar capacity for Paleontology and Paleobotany in McGraw-Hill's "Encyclopedia of Science and Technology". The last fifteen years have been devoted to two large works, "Cecil and Ida Green, Philanthropists Extraordinary", an anecdotal biography of his longtime friends, and the two-volume compendium "Geology at M.LT., 1865-1965", the best documented history of the creation and life of the Department.

Notwithstanding his many projects and tasks, during his incumbency as Head of the Department of Geology, 1949-1965, and in the years since, Shrock devoted considerable time and effort to fund-raising for the Department and to philanthropic pursuits in support of academic geophysics groups nationwide and beyond.

Prof. Robert Shrock, now Emeritus Professor at the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at M.LT., has always displayed a superb ability to harness and orient scientific energies while simultaneously finding the resources that would nourish them. As an educator he sought to pass on to those around him his unabating enthusiasm for the pursuit of knowledge. In making him the recipient of the 1992 SEG Special Commendation awardn the Honors and Award Committee has recognized his significant contributions to the vigor and progress of our field. I feel sure that all will join me in congratulating him and wishing him many more years of creative activity.


  1. AAPG Bulletin, January 1994 Copyright © 2011 American Association of Petroleum Geologists, reproduced verbatim, with permission of the AAPG
  2. Awards Citations of the SEG-- Page 188, Society of Exploration Geophysicists, Tulsa.