Joseph Arthur Colin Nicol died at his home on 19/20 December 2004, at the age of 89 years. Colin was born in Toronto, Canada, on December 5, 1915. He received degrees from McGill University (B.Sc., 1938), University of Western Ontario (M.S., 1940), and Oxford University (D.Phil., 1947; D.Sc. 1961). After completing his D.Phil at Oxford, Colin became assistant professor of zoology at the University of British Columbia (1947-1949), where he taught embryology and histology and conducted research on the nervous systems of polychaetes and chimeroid fishes. Colin became an experimental zoologist at the Plymouth Laboratory of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom in 1949 and maintained that post until 1967.
Throughout his career, Colin traveled away from his home institution for brief periods to conduct research. During his years at the Plymouth laboratory, he was a visiting professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Friday Harbor Laboratories (University of Washington), and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. In July of 1965, Donald (“Curly”) Wohlschlag, director of The University of Texas Institute of Marine Science in Port Aransas, learned that Colin Nicol was looking for a senior post and informed the dean of the Graduate School of The University of Texas that Colin “would be quite a nice haul” for the Texas marine laboratory, advising that Colin was “author of a nice book on Biology of Marine Animals which is mostly about the reactions of critters and parts of critters between electrodes.” Within four months, The University of Texas offered Colin a visiting professorship in zoology at the Institute of Marine Science for a period of one year and renewable for a second year. Colin accepted and moved from the Plymouth to Port Aransas in September of 1966. During 1967, Colin visited Friday Harbor Laboratories as a visiting professor and, in the same year, was elected Fellow of the Royal Society. After one and a half years in Texas, Colin moved to the West Coast of North America to become director of the Marine Institute of the University of Oregon, but six months later he returned to The University of Texas in a permanent capacity, as professor of zoology (and later, research scientist and professor of marine studies) at the marine institute in Port Aransas. He was included in Who’s Who (London) in 1968 and became an Erskine Fellow of the University of Canterbury in 1972. Colin retired from The University of Texas in 1980 and was named professor emeritus of marine science and zoology a year later.
Colin’s research career began quite early; his first publication, on the nest of the sora rail (Canadian Field Naturalist
) was published in 1928. His second publication came seventeen years later, the hiatus probably due to his need to finish school and attend university (since his first paper was published when he was thirteen years old). His work focused on the nervous system and bioluminescence of polychaetes between 1945 and 1959 and expanded to bioluminescence in various other marine organisms (including cnidarians, fishes, clams, copepods, and dinoflagellates) through 1964. He then moved on to research on visual optics and reflective surfaces in the eyes (retinal tapetum lucidum) and on the body of fishes (1961-1972). Colin contributed a manuscript on photoreception and vision in fishes to the first volume of Advances in Marine Biology
. His later years in research were devoted to the effects of oil and ocean dumping on marine organisms. His research visits to many marine labs were complemented by several research cruises, including voyages on RRS Discovery II
and R/V Alpha Helix
. He authored more than 130 publications, including journal articles, book chapters, and books.
Colin’s contemporaries offer several personal recollections of the man and his work. Patrick Parker, professor emeritus of Marine Science at The University of Texas and former director of the Marine Science Institute recalls
We were pleased to have a man of such stature join the Institute. Little did we know that he would turn out to be such a pleasant friend. Our first clue may have been when he rode up one morning on a Vespa motor scooter. He did not drive a car at that time and the Vespa was a challenge for him. I think he ruined at least one pair of fine English wool pants in small wrecks…Colin worked very hard at his research and he inspired his coworkers to work hard too. And his coworkers were many. I remember being on the old ferry with him during his eye study period. One of the deck hands came over and said, “Doc, I got the spider eyes for you, but I still am looking for the birds.”
Pat Parker also recounts:
Then there was the time Colin, Ken Winters, and Warren Pulich took the lab station wagon to deep South Texas to shoot nighthawks for the eye research. It was a time when cattle were being stolen due to high prices. These birds come out at dusk on rural roads. Soon a Deputy Sheriff, with lights and siren going, pulled them over. They told him they had a permit to collect, but Colin ignored him sitting in the back seat with the shot-gun across his lap. Finally the sheriff said “you got a permit or not?” and Colin finally reached into suit coat pocket and tossed it out. We were relieved that they did not end up in jail.
Kathleen Quade, assistant to the director of the Marine Science Institute then and now, recalls that “Dr. Nicol was a very sweet man. He was very nice to me, helped me with my homework…helped edit my English papers.”
Colin is gone, having left his mark on many areas of marine science and many marine science institutions. Pat Parker summarizes it best “we are all diminished by the loss of Colin Nicol.”
Sue Alexander Greninger, Secretary
Office of the General Faculty
Biographical sketch prepared by Professor Lee Fuiman, director, Marine Science Institute, and posted on the Faculty Council web site
on April 26, 2010. Additional information can be found in the Office of the General Faculty, WMB 2.102, F9500.