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John P. Grotzinger

John Grotzinger

John P. Grotzinger, of San Marino, California, is the chief scientist for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Mission and the Fletcher Jones Professor at the California Institute of Technology. In his current role at NASA, he leads a team of 450 scientists studying Mars using the Curiosity rover in a $2.5 billion research program. Grotzinger was instrumental in getting NASA to utilize advanced geological techniques to interpret features documented by the earlier rovers Spirit and Opportunity, helping confirm evidence of liquid water on ancient Mars.

Prior to his work at NASA and Caltech, Grotzinger was a member of the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he became a full professor in 1995, and a research scientist for both the Geological Survey of Canada and the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory. His research has shed significant light on the geological history of Earth, as well as that of Mars. Working with colleagues, Grotzinger linked unusually high carbon dioxide content in the ocean with the Permian-Triassic extinction event that took place roughly 252 million years ago. His work also has shown that vertical circulation of ocean water led to oxygenation of the deep ocean, likely contributing to a dramatic rise in biodiversity, known as the Cambrian explosion, which took place roughly 542 million years ago.

He has authored dozens of papers in prestigious journals, including Science, Nature, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and co-authored “Understanding the Earth,” a prominent geology textbook. Grotzinger is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has received more than two dozen honors and awards in his nearly 30-year career, including the Roy Chapman Andrews Explorer Award in 2013 and the Walcott Medal in 2007, which the National Academy of Sciences presents once every five years.

His work on the Curiosity project led Popular Mechanics to list him among its 10 Innovators Who Changed the World in 2013, and he was also awarded NASA’s Outstanding Public Leadership Medal in recognition of the success of the Curiosity rover mission.In 2014, he received Virginia Tech’s Graduate Alumni Achievement Award.

Grotzinger earned a doctorate in geological sciences from Virginia Tech in 1985. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Montana and a bachelor’s degree from Hobart College.