Taylor began his higher education in night school at Orange County Community College in Middletown, New York. He then went on to obtain a B.S. in chemistry and M.S. in geology from Indiana University, and a Ph.D. in geochemistry and materials science from Lehigh University. He also performed pre-doctoral experimental petrology research at the Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, which led to a postdoctoral fellowship at the Geophysical Lab, followed by a Fulbright Fellowship and Humboldt Stiftung at the Max-Planck-Institüt für Kernphysik in Heidelberg, Germany. After two years as an Assistant Professor at Purdue University, Taylor came to the University of Tennessee (UT) in 1973 just as UT was embarking upon its thrust into research.
Although his career originally began as an economic geologist/experimental petrologist, the return of the first Apollo samples from the Moon played a major role in his research interests and funding. It was the mineralogy, petrology, and geochemistry of these unusual rocks from another world that excited Taylor and his fellow researchers. While being in the “back room” at Johnson Space Center in December 1972 during the Apollo 17 mission, Taylor had the opportunity to directly advise the astronauts on the Moon during their extravehicular activities, subsequently becoming good friends with Harrison (“Jack”) Schmitt, the only geologist to go to the Moon and the last person to step onto the lunar surface.
Having continuously studied lunar rocks and soils since the early days of Apollo, Taylor considered himself a true “lunatic” (a term coined in the days of the Apollo program by those who passionately study lunar science and samples), but later in his career, his expanded his research efforts into the study of meteorites, as the many lunar and martian meteorites found in the Antarctic and equatorial hot deserts provided renewed interest for these heavenly bodies. In addition to planetary samples, Taylor also had an active research program on terrestrial mantle samples and diamonds. His research on diamonds, their mineral inclusions, and the host rocks for the diamonds focused on diamondiferous eclogites from Yakutia, Siberia, unique samples, that provide an opportunity to address the origin of diamonds as time capsules with pieces of information on the deepest portions of Earth.
As Director of the Planetary Geosciences Institute at UT, Taylor was particularly interested in space outreach efforts, working with the NASA-sponsored Tennessee Space Grant Consortium to provide student scholarships in space science and engineering as well as providing resources for K–12 teachers in the state. He also believed strongly in mentoring new talent in the field, and his dedication to generations of students will certainly stand the test of time.
One of the true giants in the field, Taylor made an incredible contribution to the lunar science community, and his work has had a profound impact that will live on through the work of his colleagues both young and old. His remarkable contributions to science, the mentoring of new talent, and dedication to generations of students are certain to stand the test of time.
— Portions of text courtesy of the University of Tennessee