May 10, 2024 Nancy Chabot

Donald D. Clayton, recipient of the 1991 Leonard Medal of the Meteoritical Society, passed away on January 3, 2024.

Prof. Clayton received his PhD at Caltech under the mentorship of Nobel Laureate William Alfred Fowler in 1961. He spent his career first at Rice University in 1963, where he was one of the founding faculty members of their Department of Space Science (later Space Physics and Astronomy) and then from 1989 on at Clemson University, where he established a still-thriving group in nuclear astrophysics and gamma-ray astronomy.

Among Clayton’s many scientific accomplishments, he developed the first quantitative analysis of the slow neutron capture process for forming heavy elements in stars, he predicted many of the effects of radioactivity in supernovae, including that gamma rays from them would be detectable, and he explained how radioactive abundances evolved in the interstellar medium. Clayton advanced important ideas of nuclear astrophysics manifested in meteorites, including the use of radioactive chronometers and, most importantly, predicting the existence of and making seminal contributions to the study of presolar stardust grains.

Clayton retired in 2007, but remained active in research until very recently. He wrote several books, including a classic nuclear astrophysics textbook, a science fiction novel, a scientific memoir, and a handbook of the isotopes. His Leonard Medal Address is available in MAPS.

The Donald D. Clayton Memorial Fund for support of graduate student research in astrophysics and meteoritics has been established in his memory.

Submitted by: Larry Nittler, with credit to

Categories: In Memoriam