Larry Young, former chief of the Emory National Primate Research Center Division of Behavioral Neuroscience and Psychiatric Disorders, died on March 21 at 56 years old. Young is survived by his wife, Anne Murphy, professor and director of graduate studies at the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State University. 

“He was born and raised in South Georgia as the son of a peanut farmer, so he didn’t really have a lot growing up,” Murphy said. “To suddenly become this world traveler was really quite a feat for him, and he never really took it for granted.”

Young, who also served as William P. Timmie professor in the Emory University School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, was highly involved in studies surrounding the neurobiology of love and relationships. Much of his research focused on oxytocin, a hormone involved in pair bonding, which is the ability to form intense social attachments.

Young studied the neural circuits involved in social relationships, which he hoped would contribute to improvements in psychiatric disorders, including autism. Neural circuits are groups of interconnected neurons that carry out a specific function.

In 2012, Young co-authored the book “The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction,” which explored how brain chemistry influences human relationships.

Arjen Boender, a postdoctoral fellow in the Young Lab, described Young as collaborative and inspiring. 

“He touched so many lives — and not only at Emory but also outside — so he was very open and very willing to help younger trainees advance,” Boender said.

Boender worked with Young for about four years on projects related to oxytocin receptor signaling, a key mechanism involved in brain development, and its influence on social behaviors. Among Young’s findings in his research of social behaviors was identifying oxytocin and vasopressin, another hormone, as mediators of social bonding in prairie voles, a small rodent native to North America. 

Former chief of the Emory National Primate Research Center Division of Behavioral Larry Young died on March 21.

Boender added that Young played a key role in helping him understand “how science works.” 

“He had such original and smart ideas, and it was just a pleasure to work with such a creative and engaging spirit,” Boender wrote in a follow-up email to The Emory Wheel. “I will definitely miss those talks the most, especially when he got that twinkle in his eyes, a mischievous smile would form and then you know something brilliant would follow.”

Professor of Biology Robert Liu (93MR) also spoke of the “twinkle” in Young’s eyes whenever he spoke about science. Liu said that this passion “infused the people he was talking with with a sense of excitement.” 

Associate Professor of Biology Gordon Berman worked on a joint project funded by the National Institutes of Health with Young and Liu. Berman said the project involved studying mathematical models involved in pair bonding and variables. 

Berman echoed Boender’s sentiments, describing Young as a “consummate scientist” who had a deep love for discovery and curiosity about the natural world.

Alongside Young’s contributions to science, his colleagues emphasized his leadership and community-building abilities. According to Berman, Young’s greatest legacy is the community of mentees he built. 

“Such a huge fraction of people thinking about social neuroscience … spawned from his group and from the ideas that his group were discovering,” Berman said.

Liu added that Young had a pivotal role in making Emory a “destination site” for studying social neuroscience, meaning that one of the reasons many graduate students applied to Emory was to work with Young.

“He definitely was seen here as one of the highlights of the neuroscience community,” Liu said. “He had a real love for science, biology, his profession, and he really valued trainees.”

Liu emphasized Young’s passion for mentorship, noting that the Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology, of which Young was a member, established an award in his honor to recognize those who are outstanding in mentoring trainees.

“He felt it was a real privilege to be able to do what he was doing, and he wanted other people to be able to experience that and see how great a life one could lead and have impact in the world,” Liu said.

In addition to his roles in science, Liu noted that Young truly enjoyed life. He loved traveling, especially with his wife. Any time they traveled across the world, going on safaris in Africa and taking trips to Asia, he would come back with numerous stories to share with his coworkers.

Outside their scientific careers, Young and Murphy hosted cabin parties in rural Georgia, where he would cook or barbecue for his trainees and share his travel stories, according to Liu. 

“He didn’t just focus on science but actually enjoyed living the life of a scientist and being able to go visit people all around the world,” Liu said.

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Ashley Zhu (she/her) (25C) is from Dallas, Texas, majoring in biology and minoring in sociology. She is the vice president of recruitment for the Residence Hall Association, a sophomore advisor for Raoul Hall and a staff writer for the Emory Undergraduate Medical Review. She is involved in cell biology research at the Pallas Lab and is a BIOL 141 Learning Assistant. Zhu enjoys FaceTiming her dog, stalking people's Spotify playlists and listening to classical music in her free time.