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About Richard Larson larson

Richard Larson, a true gentleman and scholar, has made immense contributions to the understanding of two of the key astrophysical challenges of our generation: star formation and galaxy evolution.

Richard received his B.Sc. and M.A. from the University of Toronto, and his PhD from the California Institute of Technology. He became a faculty member at Yale University in 1968, and he served for 43 years, finally retiring in July 2011. He can still be found in his office every day, hard at work as a Professor Emeritus.

During his time at Yale, he served as Department Chair, Director of Undergraduate Studies and curator of the Yale astronomy library (which he visited daily in order to read all the latest astronomical literature). For decades, Prof. Larson taught twin pillars of the Yale astronomy department's curriculum: “Galactic and Extragalactic Astronomy,” the first required course for undergraduate majors, and “Star Formation and the Interstellar Medium,” a key course for graduate students.

Richard's lifetime achievements towards understanding star formation are vast and unrivalled. He has taken a remarkably broad theoretical and phenomenological approach to the problem of star formation, combining analytic and numerical techniques, while also gleaning from the observations the crucial points that the observers themselves sometimes failed to see. He has an unerring physical intuition and a knack for cutting through complicated physics and confusing observations to pull out the essentials.

Richard's thesis pioneered numerical simulations of star formation. While these early calculations have been surpassed many times over in terms of numerical resolution and detail, his key conclusions have stood the test of time. He is an exemplar of how simulations should be guided by physics.

Of such fundamental importance are the relationships Dr. Larson first identified in his 1981 paper, Turbulence and Star Formation in Molecular Clouds that they are are now widely known as “Larson’s Laws.”

It is no exaggeration to call Dr. Larson the first “modern” thinker about galaxy formation. With his colleague Beatrice Tinsley, he laid the quantitative foundations for the field of galaxy evolution modeling and wrote one of the most influential and highly cited papers on interacting galaxies ever written, which introduced the notion of starbursts triggered by galaxy interactions and mergers. In more recent years, along with Volker Bromm and Paolo Coppi, Dr. Larson has helped understand the formation of the first stars in the early universe, predicting that they are much larger than the stars of today. In a world increasingly dominated by multi-author papers, Dr. Larson has continued to be an intellectual leader through single author papers. His review papers are generally considered masterpieces -- outstanding for their insight, synthesis and pedagogical qualities. His highly lucid conference talks have guided and inspired countless students and colleagues. The universe is illuminated by stars and galaxies, but the stars and galaxies themselves are illuminated by the brilliance of scientists like Richard Larson.