May 24, 2021

Stuart Ross Taylor, Leonard Medalist (1998) and former president of the Meteoritical Society (1989-1990) passed away on May 23 in Canberra, Australia, surrounded by family. Ross was a geochemist who made seminal contributions to our understanding of the origin and evolution of Earth’s continental crust, and the composition and origin of the Moon, meteorites, tektites, and the solar system. Born in Ashburton, New Zealand in 1925, he received a BSc and MSc Hons from the University of New Zealand followed by a PhD in 1954 at the University of Indiana, USA, where he studied under fellow Kiwi Brian Mason. Taylor was Mason’s only PhD student and Mason himself was the last PhD student of Victor Moritz Goldschmidt. Following his PhD, Ross became a tenured lecturer at Oxford University where he worked with Louis Ahrens and built an emission spectroscopy laboratory. There he met Noël, the love of his life, who was working on organic crystallography with Dorothy Hodgkin. They married in 1958 just before Ross accepted an appointment as a senior lecturer in geochemistry at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, where he began his work on the origin of tektites, mysterious glassy droplets found strewn over large regions of Earth. In 1961 he was recruited by John Jaeger to the ANU as a senior fellow in geophysics and in 1962 became a professorial fellow in the Research School of Earth Sciences where he spent the remainder of his career. At ANU he set up an emission spectrograph and later a spark-source mass spectrometer to analyze trace elements at unprecedented detection levels and precision. There he continued his work on tektites, establishing that they are terrestrial in origin and generated at meteorite impact sites. Shortly thereafter, Ross was invited to join the preliminary analysis team for the Apollo 11 and 12 missions and he produced the first geochemical analyses of lunar return samples. Ross went on to become a world expert on lunar composition and origin. He also focused his spectrometers on terrestrial samples such as andesites and sedimentary rocks, developing the andesite model for crustal origin and defining the composition of the upper continental crust through the analyses of terrigenous sediments (shales and loess). Over his prolific career Ross published more than 240 papers and nine books. He received a myriad of honors, including the Geochemical Society’s V. M. Goldschmidt Award (1993), the Leonard Medal (1998), election to the Australian Academy of Sciences, foreign associate of the US National Academy of Sciences, Companion of the Order of Australia, and the naming of asteroid 5670 Rosstaylor. He remained an active researcher well after becoming emeritus professor at ANU, and delivered the Barringer Lecture at the 2012 Annual Meeting in Cairns on “Origin of Planetary Systems” reviewing the formation of the solar system in the context of extrasolar planet discoveries. Despite these lofty accomplishments, Ross was always humble and kind and widely loved by his students, post-docs and colleagues. A student of history, he always had interesting historical anecdotes to share, as anyone who has read the footnotes in his books will know. Ross is survived by his wife of 63 years, Noël Taylor, daughters Judith, Susanna, and Helen, grandson Angelo, and son-in-law Michael.

Roberta Rudnick

UC Santa Barbara.

Categories: In Memoriam

Tags: Obituary