John Grotzinger ’79 recently gave a talk, titled “Going to Gale: The Search for Habitable Environments on Mars,” at Harvard University’s Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
As the mission leader and project scientist in charge of the recently-launched Mars Science Laboratory, Grotzinger talked about the rover’s search for evidence that the planet could have supported microbial life.
“The search for organic carbon on Mars will challenge all of our conventional ideas,” explains Grotzinger. “Researching those layers from the bottom to the top is like reading a book, beginning to end. We don’t know what story it will tell, but I expect it will be about the long-term environmental evolution of Mars.”
Grotzinger’s talk is the seventh in a series of lectures hosted by the Harvard University Origins of Life Initiative, whose interdisciplinary research forms a natural bridge between the physical and the life sciences.
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 will allow him and his colleagues to study Martian geology for signs of life.
As one of only 28 scientists chosen by NASA to participate in the 2003 Mars Exploration Rover Mission, he performed an analysis of Martian sediments and sedimentary rocks and assessed the role of liquid water in shaping Martian landforms. Also, Grotzinger was 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.
Grotzinger earned a B.S. in geoscience from Hobart 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.