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Robert L. Coble, Retired Professor, Dies at 64

Robert L. Coble, a retired professor of materials science and engineering and a widely recognized ceramics researcher, drowned Thursday off the coast of the island of Maui in Hawaii, where he lived. He was 64 and also had a residence in Lexington.

Coble's research at the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady, N.Y., before he came to MIT, led to the sintering of a dense aluminum oxide ceramic. The ceramic, under the trade name Lucalox, is used in filaments in sodium vapor lamps familiar to motorists as orange highway illumination.

Sintering is the process in which tiny particles of material are compacted in molds and heated so they bind together without melting. The process is used to make carbide tips for cutting tools and was used to produce complex parts that, in the days before computer-controlled machine tools, would have been too costly to machine.

After he came to MIT in 1960, Coble concentrated his research on physical ceramics and the kinetics of ceramics processes.

Coble was born in Uniontown, Pa. He received his bachelor's degree from Bethany College in West Virginia in 1950 and his PhD from MIT in 1955. After working for General Electric for five years, he was appointed to the MIT faculty as an assistant professor of ceramics in the Department of Metallurgy, now the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. He was named a full professor in 1969 and was given emeritus status when he retired in 1988.

In 1974, Coble went to Japan as a visiting scientist under an appointment from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. In 1975 and 1976, he took a year's leave of absence to work on planning for materials sciences for the U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration.

Coble leaves his wife, Joan (Walker) of Lexington; three sons, David W. of Townsend, Eric R. of Acushnet, and Stefan G. of Lexington; two daughters, Catherine Galdi of Billerica and Janet Diodati of Boxborough; and 10 grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 19 in the MIT Chapel. The body was cremated in Hawaii.