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Gero Kurat, 1938-2009

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Gero Kurat, the former head of the Mineralogical-Petrographical Department and curator of the meteorite collection at the Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria, died on November 27, 2009, at the age of 71. Gero was a pioneer in meteorite research, a gifted mineralogist, petrologist, and geochemist. He was among the first meteorite researchers to combine petrographic observations of meteorite textures with quantitative electron microprobe analyses. But he also made important contributions to the chemistry and mineralogy of lunar and terrestrial rocks. In 2001 and 2002 Gero Kurat was president of the Meteoritical Society.

Gero Kurat was born on November 18, 1938, in Klagenfurt, Austria. He studied petrology at the University of Vienna, where he received his PhD in 1963. In 1962, Gero entered the Natural History Museum, Vienna (NHMV) as a volunteer and was appointed custodian at the Mineralogical-Petrographical Department in 1963. From 1968 until his retirement in 2003, he was head of the Mineralogical-Petrographical Department and curator of the meteorite collection of the NHMV. During his directorship the department evolved from a historical institution to a world-wide known research institution focusing on meteorite research and competing with foreign universities and research institutions. Despite chronic financial shortages, Gero managed to expand the collections with innovative funding arrangements, and also acquire the necessary research equipment that allowed him and his staff to participate in international research programs, such as the study of lunar rocks.

Gero Kurat also realized early on that he had to go abroad to learn the newest developments in the research of extraterrestrial materials. In 1966, he spent three months at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., to work on meteorites. After returning from the USA, Gero wrote a remarkable set of papers on chondrules and matrix of chondritic meteorites. During this time he encountered strange inclusions with Ca,Al-rich minerals almost free of iron in the Lancé meteorite. Mireille Christophe Michel-Levy from Paris and Gero Kurat were the first to study these remarkable objects in meteorites. The debate about their origin, either by condensation or evaporation, is still ongoing.

In 1970/1971 Gero Kurat took leave of absence from the Museum to study the mineralogy and petrology of meteorites and lunar rocks with Klaus Keil at the Institute of Meteoritics in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In addition, Gero wanted to learn the use of the electron microprobe, in preparation for his eventual purchase of such an instrument in Vienna.

After his return from the US, Gero began to study upper mantle rocks from the Earth, such as peridotites from Zabargad island and spinel-lherozlitic xenoliths from volcanics in Kapfenstein, southern Austria, and other areas. To complement his mineralogical analyses with bulk chemical analyses, Gero began to cooperate with the cosmochemistry department at the Max-Planck-Institute for Chemistry in Mainz. This was a long and fruitful cooperation that resulted in many papers on meteorites and upper mantle rocks. In 1976, he received his venia legendi, allowing him to teach and supervise graduate students at the University of Vienna. In 1977, he was a visiting professor at the University in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In the 1980s, Gero started an intense collaboration with Michel Maurette in France on the study of micrometeorites from Greenland and Antarctica, which led to many well-referenced publications. Throughout all these decades, Gero extensively used the ion microprobes in Mainz, Nancy, and St. Louis for the study of micrometeorites and meteorite inclusions.

In 1989, he was named adjunct professor at the University of Vienna the same year that the Meteoritical Society meeting was held in Vienna, with Gero's active support as a co-organizer. In 1992, Gero was named honorary member of the Russian Mineralogical Society, and he was elected to the Austrian Academy of Sciences as a corresponding member in 1993 and as a full member in 1995. From 1999, he was also active with the ESA STONE experiments, in which satellite heat shields contained mineralogical samples to create the very first "artificial meteorite" experiments in space. More recently, Gero's scientific ideas shifted away from what he called mainstream thinking. His unconventional models for the formation of iron meteorites and eucrites found little acceptance in the community, which does not necessarily invalidate them. Only time will tell.

With Gero Kurat the Society lost not only a dedicated scientist who served it in many different functions (e.g., as President), but also one of their best petrographers, and an unusually active and devoted scientist with a warm and pleasant personality, who was always ready for a joke and a good glass of wine. He will be missed by his many friends from all around the world which he left far too soon.

Franz Brandstätter, Vienna;
Christian Koeberl, Vienna;
Herbert Palme, Frankfurt