September 19, 2017

Lawrence “Larry” A. Taylor was born in Paterson, New Jersey, on 14 September, 1938. He grew up in Port Jervis, New York, over a bar owned by his father. His formative years were to set the scene for the way he lived his life. At the beginning of his senior year at high school he was a passenger in a car that was involved in a bad accident that threw Larry from the car and left him to spend 10 months in hospital. Despite having missed most of his last year at high school, Larry insisted on taking his final exams – and passed! Having graduated high school he started his higher education in night school at Orange County Community College, Middletown, NY.

As he would freely tell anyone, he left New York City in 1958, one step ahead of the law, and began an academic career at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. In 1961 he graduated with a major in chemistry and a minor in geology, and stayed on to achieve a master's degree in geology after discovering a love for the subject through a friend.

From 1958-65 he also worked on and off as a driller, mucker, powder-monkey, and geologist in mines in Ontario, Canada. It must be from these days that he learned to be a "jack of all trades" in everything that would come along his path. Larry tackled with relish even the most menial and taxing of jobs, from repairing petrographic microscopes to designing and building a clean laboratory for radiogenic isotopic studies.

In 1965 he was introduced to planetary geology as a NASA Research Fellow at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. It was during this time that his two children, Jeff and Kelly, were born. In 1968, he received a Ph.D. in geological sciences with a minor in material sciences from Lehigh University. He then moved to the Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington where he conducted post-doctoral research into experimental petrology. The next two years were probably his fondest until later in life. At the Geophysical Laboratory the whole world of petrology, mineralogy, and geochemistry came to life for him, and he took advantage of this opportunity to perform some classic experiments.

After his post-doc at the Geophysical Lab, he then undertook a Fulbright and Humboldt Fellowships at the prestigious Max-Planck-Institüt für Kernphysik in Heidelberg, Germany, which deepened his knowledge and understanding of sulfides and oxides and their experimental phase equilibria. Such mineralogic studies would be the focus of his early studies on lunar rocks. He was hired as an Assistant Professor at Purdue University in 1971 and moved to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in 1973, where he remained until his (partial) retirement in June 2017. Larry achieved tenure after only two years, the most rapid rise of any professor in the department to date, and in 1977 he became a full professor. In those early years, the cornerstone of his research was experimental petrology, specifically on sulfides and oxides. Again, it is a tribute to his abilities, keen insight, and most of all hard work, that he has moved so easily into disparate areas of research over the years, from experimental petrology of sulfides, to the study of the kinetics of silicates, to trace-element and isotopic geochemistry.

Larry Taylor was one of the geoscientists based at the Johnson Space Center during Apollo 17, NASA’s last manned mission to the moon, in December 1972. During that mission, he met astronaut Harrison H. “Jack” Schmitt. Their friendship played a critical role in the growth of UT’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences (see cades-growth-discovery-mark-nasaresearch- ut/ for more details) in which Larry was based. It was also instrumental in the forming of the Planetary Geosciences Institute, which has a long and wellestablished history of research funding from NASA and the National Science Foundation.

In 1993, a new phase of his life began with his marriage to his second wife, Dong-Hwa (Dawn) Shin, but his dedication to his work has been proven in that his productivity has not faltered. In the previous 20 years of his life at the University of Tennessee he would often put in over 100 hours a week in his office, writing papers and hounding graduate students and post-docs. But after his second marriage, he started to spend a "normal" day in his office at school and then equally as much of his time working at home.

Over the years, Larry has served on numerous editorial boards, planning committees, working groups, and review panels. These have included a year as NASA discipline scientist and program manager in Washington, D.C. (while keeping up with his academic pursuits and continuing to advise graduate students and post-docs); associate editorship of the Proceedings of the 10th and 12th Lunar and Planetary Science Conferences, Journal of Geophysical Research, and International Geology Review; numerous stints on the Lunar and Planetary Sample Team (LAPST), in charge of dispersing lunar samples, and on the Lunar and Planetary Review Panel, in charge of dispensing funds; convener of the highly successful Mare Basalt Workshop and guest editor of the papers published in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta based on this workshop; and board member of various lunar outpost site-selection and resource committees.

Larry also formed a special bond with two other “Taylor” giants in the lunar and planetary field – S. Ross Taylor (Australian National University) and G. Jeffrey Taylor (University of Hawaii). Their one and only paper collaboration was published in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta in 2006 and became affectionately know as the Taylor-cubed paper! Published in the issue dedicated to the life of Larry Haskin, it was entitled “The Moon – A Taylor Perspective”. As Ross and Jeff went by their middle names, Larry finally allowed the world to know what his middle initial was and he was listed as L. August Taylor! The memorial to Larry from Ross and Jeff can be found at

Larry has been prolific in terms of research production. His peer-reviewed research papers totaled 542, but the Web of Science lists only 349! Although not all of his papers are listed, Larry’s h-index still exceeds 50 and his extended (>1 page) abstracts number over 700. Larry has also published in many engineering journals because his interests were so diverse. The high regard that the University of Tennessee has for Larry is seen by the fact that he received the UT Chancellor’s Award for Research and Creative Achievement on more than one occasion. He has also been honored by being nominated and selected to become a Fellow of the Meteoritical Society, the Mineralogical Society of America, and the American Geophysical Union. In July 2017, he was awarded the NASA SSERVI Wargo Award for his contributions to planetary science and exploration. It was while he was in California to receive this award that his illness became apparent and he was unable to give his acceptance presentation. Once back in Knoxville, the full extent of the brain cancer was uncovered and in less than two months, Lawrence August Taylor left this world peacefully surrounded by his family.

For those of us lucky enough to have benefitted from Larry’s guidance and tutelage, the world is worse off for his passing. We are all sad that Larry is gone, but we as his postdocs, students, colleagues, friends, etc., have a responsibility to continue his legacy. To the Moon, Larry – and this time to stay!

Clive R. Neal
L.A. Taylor post-doc 1986-1990
Now Professor of Planetary Science, University of Notre Dame

Thanks to Dawn Taylor, Greg Snyder, G. Jeffrey Taylor, Harry “Hap” McSween, and Tennessee Today, who all contributed.

Categories: In Memoriam