Donald Taylor, associate professor emeritus of physics and astronomy, died May 28. He was 87.
Taylor joined the University of Nebraska–Lincoln faculty in 1971, staying on until his retirement in 1998. During that time, he pioneered and coordinated multiple efforts that have come to define the study and practice of astronomy throughout the state.
Soon after arriving, Taylor developed specifications for the 30-inch reflecting telescope that was installed at the Behlen Observatory in Mead, Nebraska, in 1972. The Department of Physics and Astronomy hosts public viewing nights at the observatory to this day. Taylor later helped install the solar-viewing Minnich Telescope and secured funding for the Student Observatory that sits atop the Memorial Stadium Garage.
Dan Claes, department chair and professor of physics and astronomy, estimated that Taylor taught introductory astronomy to more than 8,000 undergraduate students during his tenure at Nebraska. Early in his tenure, Taylor began organizing opportunities for his students to observe the night sky from atop Ferguson Hall. Those activities eventually shifted to the Student Observatory, which continues accommodating student projects and special events.
His passion for teaching astronomy extended beyond the campus to his community, where Taylor delighted in inviting neighbors to view the rings of Saturn or the craters of Earth’s moon through his homemade telescopes. In 2017, he and his wife, Mary, viewed the total solar eclipse from their driveway.
Taylor was an alumnus of the California Institute of Technology, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Arizona. It was at Arizona, in January 1969, that he and two colleagues became the first to observe the light from a pulsar, a feat that earned them a story in Time magazine. That pulsar, situated at the center of the Crab Nebula, still ranks as one of just a handful observed in the visible spectrum.
Taylor was born March 6, 1933, in Dayton, Ohio. He and Mary met through a mutual love of tennis and continued playing the game throughout their lives together. Taylor is survived by Mary; sons Brook Taylor (Elizabeth) and Glenn Taylor; stepdaughters Philippa Stasiuk (David) and Sophie Damaso (John); grandchildren Rowan, Nikola, Iris, Jane, Gia, and a grandson due in July.