Harold Larson

Obituary of Harold Phillip Larson

Dr. Harold Phillip “Hal” Larson passed away peacefully at his home in Tucson on 2 November 2023 surrounded by those he loved. He is survived by his wife Emma Stephens Larson and children Jonathan Larson of Tucson and Robyn Larson McCarthy of New Ipswich, N.H. and their families, including his three beloved grandsons.

Hal was born 13 July 1938 in Hartford, Conn. to Philip and Leatha Larson. He attended Manchester High School. Studying French as an undergraduate at Bates College with plans to become a high school teacher, he took a physics class and discovered a passion for delving into the secrets of the Solar System. He and Emma married in 1960 and moved to Indiana to attend Purdue University, where Hal earned his Ph.D. in physics.

Following a post-doctoral fellowship at Laboratoire Aimé-Cotton in Orsay, France, he accepted a position in the Lunar and Planetary Department at the University of Arizona. A pioneer of airborne infrared spectrometry, he led the team that discovered water on Jupiter in 1974, the first evidence that the source of life on Earth could be found elsewhere in our Solar System. Further discoveries of water in extraterrestrial environments included Comet Halley and the interstellar medium.

Hal received numerous awards both for research and for his innovative work as an educator, in particular his Einstein’s Protégés program, which reimagined how undergraduate science is taught to non-science majors. The 1985 Humboldt Prize for Senior American Scientists from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation provided support for a sabbatical at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics near Munich, Germany, where he and his family made lifelong friends. He received the University of Arizona College of Science Innovation in Teaching Award in 1996 and the Provost’s General Education Teaching Award in 1999. The same year, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching named him Arizona Professor of the Year.

He was honored with the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Advancement in 1998 for his contributions to the airborne science program, and one of his airborne spectrometers was acquired by the National Air and Space Museum for preservation. He was named University Distinguished Professor in 2005.

Hiking the Southwest with family and travel, concerts, and theater with his wife filled his retirement years. He enjoyed keeping in touch with colleagues and former students, repairing antique American clocks, and, most of all, countless hours spent cooking, reading, swimming, and playing games with his treasured grandsons.

The family welcomes donations in his memory to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

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A Memorial Tree was planted for Harold
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