Lawrence “Larry” Taylor, a faculty member who was founder and director of UT’s Planetary Geosciences Institute, passed away September 18. He was 79.
A prolific researcher, Taylor had a career at UT that spanned 46 years.
He 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, in which Taylor was based. It was also instrumental in the forming of the Planetary Geosciences Institute, which has a long and well-established history of work for NASA and the National Science Foundation.
Much of Taylor’s research focused on petrology—the study of rocks and conditions under which they form—and the evolution of the early moon’s magma ocean. His major contributions to the field of geology include the discovery of the oldest mare basalts (big dark lowland regions on the moon, where scientists believe basaltic lavas pooled in the ancient past). He also made significant contributions to the evaluation and use of resources on the moon and Mars, and he held six patents for engineering processes including microwave paving of roads using lunar regolith—loose material covering solid rock.
Taylor was named a University Distinguished Professor in 2004. He taught numerous geology classes and introduced generations of students to his favorite tool, the electron microprobe, an analytical device used to determine the chemical composition of small volumes of solid materials without destroying them. He was UT’s contact for the Tennessee Space Grant Consortium and conducted outreach for the public and for local schools.
The electron probe laboratory in the new Strong Hall science building will bear Taylor’s name. His contributions funded the Larry Taylor Professorship in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.
Taylor is survived by his wife, Dawn, his children, Kelly Parra and Jeff Taylor, and their spouses and children.
A memorial service will be held at a later date.