Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts HistorySauer, Anne
Nichols, Robert L., 1904-1995
|Robert L. Nichols (1904-1995), A1926, H1978, was a noted explorer and geologist who served on the Tufts faculty for forty-five years. His discoveries led to the naming of the Tufts Pass in Antarctica and the Tufts Elv in Greenland.|
Nichols received his bachelor's degree from Tufts in 1926 before moving on to study at Harvard, where he received an M.A. in 1930 and a Ph. D. in 1940. While studying at Harvard, Nichols began his teaching career at Tufts. He served as a lecturer in the Department of Geology from 1929 to 1936, when he was named assistant professor. Nichols was named chair of the department in 1940, and was promoted to full professor in 1946.
Nichols is most famous for his contributions to research in geologic history in Antarctica and Greenland. He participated in seventeen different expeditions during the course of his life, including five expeditions to Antarctica. In the early 1940s, Nichols discovered a valley and glacier formation in Antarctica, and named it the Tufts Pass in honor of his alma mater. On a similar expedition, Nichols was forced to survive on seal meat for twenty-eight days, after bad weather prevented planes from making food drops for him. In the late 1940s and the early 1960s, Nichols made expeditions to unexplored northern Greenland. The Danish government honored his discoveries in Greenland by naming a river after Tufts in the area Nichols explored. In 1963, Nichols and some of his students were filmed descending into the Grand Canyon. The program was later broadcast on ABC's "Meet the Professor."
During his lifetime, Nichols was a member of numerous geological organizations, including the American Geographical Society, the Geological Society of America, the Royal Geographic Society, and the Explorer's Club. He received honorary degrees from both Tufts University and the University of Kentucky, and was a recipient of the Tufts Distinguished Service Award in 1948. In 1965, the United States Department of Defense presented him with the Antarctic Service Medal in honor of his contribution to Antarctic science, and in 1978 Nichols received the Bellinghausen-Lazarev Memorial Medal of the Academy of Science of the Soviet Union in Moscow.
After retiring from his position as Henry Bromfield Pearson Professor of Natural Sciences at Tufts in 1974, Nichols worked briefly as a lecturer at the University of Kentucky. In 1979, the Department of Geology at Tufts established the Robert L. Nichols Scholarship for students showing exceptional ability in geological fieldwork. Nichols died on February 25, 1995, of complications from Alzheimer's Disease.
Source: VF, TC 1978, TAR 1948
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