Professor, Creator of Moon Dirt Dies at 82

Professor Emeritus James Carter created the rock garden located between Founders North and Founders Photo Courtesy of UTD Tandem Vault

Longtime UTD geoscience professor emeritus James Carter passed away in a house fire on Sept. 21, 2019. The pioneer, who created synthetic lunar moon dirt still used by NASA today, was 82.

Carter first joined UTD’s precursor, The Graduate Research Center of the Southwest, as a senior researcher in 1964. He stayed with GRCSW when it became UTD and was a professor and researcher at UTD for 43 years until he retired in 2008. After retirement, Carter focused his career on outreach and created museum-style displays and detailed maps for UTD.

Throughout his career as a geoscientist, Carter had several notable accomplishments. He assisted in analyzing samples from the Apollo 11 collection. He also helped with the excavation of an Alamosaurus thigh bone at Big Bend National park. Carter was the creator of simulated moon dirt, a material similar to lunar soil which was used by researchers for studies about human activity on the moon.

As a professor at UTD, Carter worked to spread knowledge and awareness for the geosciences, serving as head of the department for a significant amount of his time as a professor.

“He was a great communicator and he was a great teacher,” said Gloria Eby, geosciences graduate support assistant. “He could communicate with a person (who was) three years old as well as a person (who was) 103.”

Carter was known for his cheerful demeanor and willingness to teach and help others.

“He was one of those guys that (was) always in a good mood,” said Paula Fleischmann, a geoscience major at UTD. “He was always so helpful and would always go into detail about processes and would help you look under the microscope to identify minerals.”

Carter had no children and his wife passed away in 2004.

“His whole connection with the world was through UTD,” said Geosciences Professor Robert Stern, one of Carter’s colleagues.

Even after retirement, Carter continued to help geoscience students as a mentor for the GeoClub, helping the club to arrange field trips.

“His commitment to the university was total,” Stern said. “Even after he retired, he was here, oftentimes more than many of the faculty were. He was a constant fixture.”

In addition to the maps and displays he made for the UTD Geosciences Department, Carter also spent four years making the UTD rock garden, located near the Founders North and Founders buildings. After retirement, Carter was recognized for his years of service by the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics which established the James L. Carter Scholarship/Fellowship Endowment Fund. The James L. Carter Master’s Scholarship Fund for Geosciences was established in 2016.

“He just wanted to bring the earth to UTD,” Stern said.

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