Former UC Davis geology instructor Rand Schaal, whose lively teaching style inspired and entertained thousands of undergraduates, died suddenly on Sept. 11, 2015, in Needles, California. He was 64.
Friends remember him as a popular teacher, an avid pilot and a superb swimmer who was generous in spirit with everyone he met.
"His students adored him," said Dawn Sumner, Chair of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UC Davis. "He always greeted you with a smile, a warm heart, and a goofy joke. For those of us who had the great fortune to know and work with Rand, this is sad news indeed."
Schaal specialized in general education courses during his teaching career. His students bestowed on him the nickname "Moondude" for his love for planetary geology, a moniker he enjoyed greatly, Sumner said. From 1986 to 1998, Schaal taught courses on the solar system, earthquakes and geologic hazards and California geology, reaching some 5,500 students.
His approach to teaching was illustrated by Schaal's 1998 study on animal behavior and earthquake prediction, published in California Geology. In the study, Schaal carefully explained how he used the scientific method to demolish any link between animal behavior and Bay Area earthquakes. "Science is designed to correct itself," he wrote.
Before beginning his teaching career, Schaal was among the rare few who had the opportunity to shoot guns at moon rocks. In the 1970s, when Schaal was a graduate student, researchers were trying to understand how the moon's surface formed. Schaal pulverized sampled of lunar basalt with a projectile gun and examined features in the shocked rocks to infer the moon's history of meteorite bombardment.
But Schaal also loved to explore the Earth outside of a laboratory, especially from up in the air. Schaal's father Ted Schaal was an airline pilot for Pan American and Overseas National Airlines and Rand was also a pilot, specializing in aerial photography in order to enhance teaching geology at UC Davis. "Rand knew what all geologists know — the spark in understanding and appreciation of the earth sciences lies in the field," Sumner said.
As a legacy of his commitment to teaching and fieldwork, Schaal created the Rand Schaal Field Fund, which partly sponsors the Earth and Planetary Science department's fall field trips. The fund has also supported many undergraduate and graduate students in their fieldwork. He also founded the department's Alumni Association in 1988.
In 1998, Schaal, a former Aggie swimmer, and his father made a joint gift of $1.4 million to the campus, with $1 million designated to fund an Olympic-sized swimming pool and $400,000 to assist the geology department in funding a new teaching facility, the Ted and Rand Schaal Auditorium in Warren and Leta Giedt Hall. Rand Schaal was a member of the UC Davis 1972 swim team and swam with the Davis Aquatic Masters, competing mainly in 2-mile open water races.
Schaal earned a bachelor's degree with honors in geology at UC Davis in 1973 and a master's degree in geology at UCLA in 1976. He completed his doctorate at UC Davis in 1991, researching mantle xenoliths from the Colorado Plateau. Later in life he also took courses in fiction writing and in popular science writing at UC Santa Cruz.
After a stroke forced his early retirement from teaching in 1998, Schaal wrote and self-published "The Radon Trilogy," inspired by his research on moon rocks and the Earth's mantle.
He is survived by his father Ted Schaal of Aptos and a sister, Constance Bruschke of Elverson, Pennsylvania.
Messages of sympathy and memories of Schaal may be sent to email@example.com.
— Becky Oskin, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science