Devendra Lal, FRS
The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, community is mourning the loss of longtime teacher, friend and colleague Devendra Lal, FRS, who died on December 1 at his San Diego home. He was 83.
Throughout his long career, Professor Lal was known for the diversity and creativity of his research interests. His early work on the composition and energy spectrum of primary cosmic radiation and in elementary particle physics became the basis for his research on the mechanisms and rates of natural physical and chemical processes on Earth and in the solar system using radionuclides. He published extensively on cosmic ray produced radioisotopes in terrestrial environments, in the atmosphere, in polar ice, in the oceans and oceanic sediments, and in lakes. And he worked on nuclear tracks and radioactivity in lunar samples and meteorites. This work brought him numerous international honors, among them as a Fellow of the Royal Society, Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences, Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, and recipient of the V. M. Goldschmidt Medal of the Geochemical Society.
To his many friends and colleagues at Scripps and around the world Professor Lal was best known for his insatiable curiosity, his good humor, and as a caring and demanding teacher. He was fond of asking: "What new idea did you have today?" No idea was too big or too outlandish to be considered. He loved to experiment, and if something didn't work he would try it another way. Some of his experiments were gigantic, such as dating ocean waters by submerging meter-sized frames packed with iron-impregnated sponges or fibers into the deep sea for many hours to extract minute quantities of the natural radioisotope silicon 32. He often frustrated his colleagues and students with his all-consuming pursuit of science. He was both uncompromising and patient with students, often lamenting their poor preparation, especially in mathematics, but also spending hours with them until they understood the material.
Devendra Lal was born February 14, 1929 to a large family of modest means in Varanasi, India, where he completed his bachelor's and master's education at Banaras Hindu University. His pioneering PhD thesis research on cosmic ray physics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Bombay (Mumbai) and Bombay University, completed in 1960, had its roots in the origins of modern physics in Germany and the United States through his thesis advisor Professor Bernard Peters, who was a refugee from both Nazism in Germany and McCarthyism in the US.
He first came to Scripps as a visiting researcher in 1957, and 10 years later as a professor of nuclear geophysics. Over his long career Professor Lal divided his time between Scripps and appointments in India, first as a professor at the Tata Institute and then as professor and director of the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad, before making Scripps his full-time academic home in 1989. Professor Lal and his late wife Aruna have been generous supporters of Scripps, notably through their endowment of the Devendra and Aruna Lal Fellowship in support of creative and exceptional Scripps graduate students. His wisdom and his good humor will be sorely missed, but his academic legacy and personal impact will remain with us for many years to come.
Plans to remember and celebrate Professor Lal at Scripps are pending. Details will be posted on the Scripps website (scripps.ucsd.edu).
Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, is one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for global science research and education in the world. Now in its second century of discovery, the scientific scope of the institution has grown to include biological, physical, chemical, geological, geophysical, and atmospheric studies of the earth as a system. Hundreds of research programs covering a wide range of scientific areas are under way today on every continent and in every ocean. The institution has a staff of more than 1,400 and annual expenditures of approximately $195 million from federal, state, and private sources. Scripps operates robotic networks and one of the largest U.S. academic fleets. Birch Aquarium at Scripps serves as the interpretive center of the institution and showcases Scripps research and a diverse array of marine life through exhibits and programming for more than 430,000 visitors each year. Learn more at scripps.ucsd.edu.
About UC San Diego
The University of California, San Diego is a student-centered, research-focused, service-oriented public institution that provides opportunity for all. Recognized as one of the top 15 research universities worldwide and born of a culture of collaboration, UC San Diego sparks discoveries that advance society, drive economic growth and positively impact the world. Our students, who learn from Nobel laureates, MacArthur Fellows and National Academy members, are committed to public service. For the sixth consecutive year, UC San Diego has been ranked first in the nation based on research, civic engagement and social mobility. We are one campus with multiple pillars of excellence, a top ten public university that is transforming lives, shaping new disciplines and advancing the frontiers of knowledge. Learn more at www.ucsd.edu.