Klaus Keil, 1934–2022

Klaus Keil

Credit: School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawai`i.

Klaus Keil, Emeritus Professor, former Director of the Hawai`i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, and former Interim Dean of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawai`i, passed away peacefully at home on February 25, 2022, after a long battle with cancer. He was 87 years old.

Keil was an outstanding scientist; spectacular mentor, educator, and leader; dedicated family man; and enthusiastic tennis player. His academic and science leadership skills glittered at the University of Hawai`i since 1990 and at the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico from 1968 to 1990.

Keil was a pioneer in the use of the electron microprobe in meteoritics and in petrology and mineralogy in general. In the early 1960s, he worked with colleagues at NASA Ames Research Center, Ray Fitzgerald and Kurt Heinrich, to make the first energy dispersive X-ray spectrometer for use in microanalysis. This device was the first to focus on terrestrial and extraterrestrial geological materials and the first to use a solid-state lithium-drifted silicon detector. Over his long and illustrious career, Keil studied practically every type of meteorite and lunar sample, addressing big problems in planetary science, from chondrule formation to pyroclastic eruptions on the Moon and achondritic bodies, from asteroid disruption to the composition of the martian surface.

His accomplishments were recognized through awards of the Leonard Medal from the Meteoritical Society, the J. Lawrence Smith Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, and election as a Legends Fellow of the Microanalysis Society, in addition to numerous other accolades including the main belt asteroid Keil and the extraterrestrial mineral keilite, (Fe,Mg)S, named in his honor.

A long time ago someone told me, with astonishment in his voice, “Everything Klaus touches turns to gold.” [Keil] was an alchemist. He made his own gold through his imagination, ability to synthesize diverse data, hard work, and the ability to motivate research in his group. The real gold, though, goes to all of us who benefitted from his research, leadership, and mentorship, especially those of us who have had the pleasure and honor to work with him and to be his friend.

— Text courtesy of Jeff Taylor, University of Hawai`i