John Grotzinger '79 has the distinction of being the mission leader and project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory which successfully landed the Curiosity Rover on Mars in August 2012. Its mission is to detect organic compounds in sedimentary rock that may point to the one-time existence of life on Mars. Due to the likelihood that the early history of the red planet is similar to that of the Earth, Grotzinger hopes to gain more understanding of Earth's evolution through studies of Mars. Still underway, the mission is widely described as among the most successful in NASA history.
Grotzinger is the Fletcher Jones Professor of Geology at the California Institute of Technology. An eminent sedimentologist and stratigrapher with wide-ranging interests in sedimentary processes, geobiology, and Earth's early history, Grotzinger previously served as the Shrock Professor of Earth Sciences and Director of the Earth Resources Laboratory at M.I.T.
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 has returned to campus twice to speak with students about his work.