A Diamond in the Rough: Remembering Larry Taylor

Professor Lawrence A. Taylor passed away September 18 just after his 79th birthday and following his recent retirement after 46 years of service on the UT faculty. Larry was founder and director of the Planetary Geosciences Institute and was named a University Distinguished Professor in 2004.

He was a consummate scientist and indisputably the department’s most prolific faculty member ever, with a staggering 542 publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Much of his research focused on the petrology and magmatic evolution of the Moon, stemming from his involvement with the Apollo program early in his career. Major contributions include the discovery of the oldest mare basalts and the role of liquid immiscibility in the lunar magma ocean. He also made significant contributions to the evaluation and use of resources on the Moon and Mars. He held six patents for engineering processes such as microwave paving of roads using lunar regolith. His terrestrial research also helped elucidate the nature and composition of the Earth’s mantle by studying rocks formed at great depths and the diamonds that they carry. Much of that work was done in collaboration with Russian colleagues, analyzing kimberlites to which no other Americans had access. His research garnered recognition from all over the world.

Larry taught numerous geology courses and introduced generations of students to his favorite tool, the electron microprobe. He directed seven master’s and eight PhD students and supervised 41 postdoctoral associates. He was UT’s point man for the Tennessee Space Grant Consortium and did lots of outreach for the public and local schools. Larry was always an aggressive proponent of the department. It is a much stronger program because of his many contributions. The electron probe laboratory in our new building will carry his name, and his generous contribution has also funded the Larry Taylor Professorship.

His long-time colleague Hap McSween remembers Larry as being like what he studied – a diamond in the rough.

“Like a diamond brought to the Earth’s surface, he was never really in equilibrium with his surroundings,” McSween says. “He was forged under harsh conditions – he relished telling of being raised as a child in a neighborhood bar. He was hard – on his students and postdocs, on his friends, on department heads. He was uncut – never subtle – but his honest clarity sparkled. And despite his flaws, which all diamonds have, he was nearly indestructible, almost to the end.Larry, and his wife Dawn, had a constant presence in the department that will surely be missed.

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