Obituary: Roger Phillips, professor emeritus in Arts & Sciences, 80

Roger Jay Phillips, professor emeritus of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, died Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, in Longmont, Colo., after suffering from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was 80.

Roger Phillips

Over a career that spanned more than five decades, Phillips contributed broadly to our understanding of the geophysical structure and evolution of the moon, Mars, Venus and Mercury.

Phillips joined the faculty of Washington University in 1992, where he served as a professor and as director of the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences (MCSS) from 1999 to 2007.

“Roger was among the preeminent planetary geophysicists of his time,” said Bradley Jolliff,  professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University and current director of the MCSS. “His research included geophysical characterization, especially using radar and gravity, to determine the interior structure of the solid planets. His students and co-workers, including from the time he was at Washington University, are now among the leaders in the field and carry on his legacy.”

Phillips was the team leader for the Apollo Lunar Sounder Experiment, which flew on Apollo 17 and produced the first radar imaging of the lunar subsurface. Later he was team co-leader for the Shallow Radar experiment on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, among other key roles on other science teams.

A fellow of the American Geophysical Union, Phillips served as an editor of Geophysical Research Letters and co-edited the books “Basaltic Volcanism on the Terrestrial Planets,” “Origin of the Moon” and “Venus II.” In 2007, he became professor emeritus and moved to Colorado, where he was affiliated with the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder.

Phillips received his PhD in 1968 from the University of California, Berkeley. He then worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., served as director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute and worked at Southern Methodist University before moving to Washington University.

Phillips is survived by his wife, Rosanna Ridings; sister, Lynne Smart; daughters Kristina Dell’Aquila (Cal) of West Covina, Calif., and Kimberly Gonzalez (Jose) of Friendswood, Texas; four grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

The family will plan a celebration of life when COVID-19 allows, probably in 2021. Memorial contributions may be made to the Parkinson Association of the Rockies or TRU Community Care.

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