UA planetary science pioneer Wilkening dies at 74

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Laurel Wilkening, former head of the University of Arizona’s department of planetary sciences and director of the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory, died on June 4. Wilkening’s passion for science led her to not only contribute her knowledge to the UA, but to the world. 

In 1944, Wilkening was born in Richland, Washington and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at Reed College as well as a Ph.D. from the University of California at San Diego. 

Wilkening joined the UA in 1973, where she was a professor of geological chemistry. Eventually, Wilkening became the director and department head for UA’s LPL, serving from 1981 to 1983. She also was the first person to serve as the dean of sciences at the UA and spent time as the dean for the graduate college. 

After her time at the UA, Wilkening became the first woman provost at the University of Washington and the first woman chancellor at the University of California at Irvine all before she retired in 1998. 

In addition to her teaching and administration roles, Wilkening made her mark in various space programs serving as vice chairwoman of Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Space. 

Adding to her long list of accomplishments, Wilkening had an asteroid named after her. In 2013, the International Astronomical Union announced that an asteroid discovered in 1999 would be named in her honor.

Not only did Wilkening accomplish many different things in the science world, but she also contributed to the creation of UA’s department of gender & women’s studies and helped with the campaign to build the Women’s Plaza of Honor. 

According to the Carrillo’s Tucson Mortuary website, she is survived by her brother Wes and Mary Wilkening and niece Whitney Wilkening. 


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