A Conversation With Dr. John Hoffman
UT Dallas Prof and Researcher Has Seen His Work Go to the Moon and Beyond
Nov. 17, 2009
We sat down for A Conversation With ... Dr. John Hoffman, a space scientist and physics professor in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
Hoffman’s work has helped unpack the mysteries of our solar system. His instruments have flown aboard three Apollo missions to the moon, on the Pioneer Mission to Venus in 1978, and most recently on the landmark Phoenix Mission to Mars.
His spectrometer helped explore Halley’s Comet in 1986, and his experiments still revolve around the Earth on a handful of orbiting satellites. The Phoenix Mars Mission — in which the presence of water was definitively determined — depended heavily on a system of small furnaces and a mass spectrometer system he designed and built.
He came to the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest 1966. In 1967 the Research Center changed its name to the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies, later becoming UT Dallas in 1969. Dr. Hoffman has served all three organizations with distinction.
During our visit, Dr. Hoffman shared his thoughts on:
- Being recruited to study space from a building in a cotton field in North Texas.
- His enjoyment in transforming from pure researcher, to researcher and educator as UT Dallas developed.
- How, for the scientists involved, discovering water might not have been the most interesting part of the Phoenix Mars Mission.
- The reason for choosing “Phoenix” for the mission to discover water.
- How exciting discoveries along the way have been, from the moon, to Venus to Halley’s Comet.
- Why he made the switch from clarinet to oboe and how the next chapter for him takes him back into music — and back to clarinet.
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“It seemed like when a person came (here) they stayed almost forever, because there
was very little turnover. I think the work conditions were so good that people just liked it here.”
— Dr. John Hoffman
On working at the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest, the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies and UT Dallas