John Grotzinger ’79, S.D.’13, the mission leader and project scientist in charge of the Mars Science Laboratory, received the 2014 Graduate Alumni Achievement Award from Virginia Tech at the institution’s Graduate Commencement Ceremony on May 16. Created in 2003, the award honors its recipients for outstanding national or international accomplishments and exemplary contributions to their professions, disciplines, communities, or society at large.
Grotzinger is the Fletcher Jones Professor of Geology at the California Institute of Technology. He is an eminent sedimentologist and stratigrapher with wide-ranging interests in sedimentary processes, geobiology, and Earth’s early history. He previously served as the Shrock Professor of Earth Sciences and director of the Earth Resources Laboratory at M.I.T. There, Grotzinger researched and investigated the spontaneous burst of life that spawned the early ancestors of all animals, otherwise known as the Cambrian Explosion, which remains one of the most debated and mysterious topics in evolutionary biology. He applied his theories of evolution to the study of Mars and developed digital mapping techniques that allow him and his colleagues to study Martian geology for signs of life.
He has been elected into the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors that can be accorded a U.S. scientist. He has also been awarded the National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, the Fred Donath Medal from the Geological Society of America, the Henno Martin Medal from the Geological Society of Namibia, and the Charles Doolittle Walcott Medal by the National Academy of Sciences. He was also awarded NASA’s Outstanding Public Leadership Medal in recognition of the Curiosity rover mission’s success, and his work on that project led Popular Mechanics to list him among its 10 Innovators Who Changed the World in 2013.
At Hobart, Grotzinger earned a B.S. in geoscience and was a member of the lacrosse team. He earned an M.S. from the University of Montana and a Ph.D. from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He returned to the Colleges as a Druid lecturer in 1996.
The Colleges recognized Grotzinger with an honorary degree at the 2013 Commencement Ceremony.