2009 Kusch Lecture To Showcase Mission to Mars

Space Scientist John Hoffman Will Discuss the Science and the Journey that Led to Discovering Water on the Red Planet

April 9, 2009

The 2009 Polykarp Kusch Lecture Series continues its rich tradition of featuring “lively minds” when Dr. John Hoffman speaks Monday, April 13, at 1 p.m. in the UT Dallas Eugene McDermott Library Auditorium.

Hoffman, a physics professor and member of the William B. Hanson Center for Space Sciences, developed a key technology that proved vital in discovering water on Mars.  In his  “Phoenix Mission to Mars” talk, Hoffman presents initial discoveries from the lander’s instruments and explains the mass spectrometer he designed to analyze gasses from Martian soil samples—the key step needed to prove the existence of water on Mars in 2008.

About the Polykarp Kusch
Lecture Series

Polykarp Kusch was the 1955 Nobel laureate in physics. He joined UT Dallas in 1972 and was a UT System Regental Professor.

He served on the University’s physics faculty until he retired and was accorded professor emeritus status in 1982.

His science career was marked by a delight in teaching and research, and he connected with his students in countless ways, including via presentations of physics experiments in his “Phenomena of Nature” classes.

When he retired, the University endowed a program of annual lectures with the theme Concerns of the Lively Mind in his honor.

“I have had a very exciting and satisfying career being involved in pioneering work learning about our nearby solar system bodies, but I think the highlight was when we saw the actual verification that water really exists on Mars and discovered other materials that could lead to conditions that the planet may have been habitable in the past,” Hoffman said.

During the Phoenix mission, Hoffman lived on Mars time, where the day, or sol is 40 minutes longer than our 24-hour day on earth.  Keeping up with the Phoenix Mars Lander meant working when the lander’s solar cells were exposed to sunlight—hence working on the Mars clock—and patiently waiting up to 20 minutes for instruction signals and data to travel between the lander and the Spacecraft Operation’s Center at the University of Arizona, in Tucson, where he spent most of last summer. 

In addition to his other duties, Hoffman is associate dean for Undergraduate Education of the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. He received his Ph.D. degree from the University of Minnesota and spent seven years at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., developing instrumentation to study the composition of planetary atmospheres.  His instruments have helped unpack the mysteries of our solar system from three Apollo missions to the moon, to the Pioneer Mission to Venus in 1978 to the landmark Phoenix Mission to Mars in 2008.

His spectrometer helped characterize the coma, or atmosphere, around Haley’s Comet in 1986.  His instruments have also explored the Earth’s ionosphere, which is the region of electrically charged particles high up in the atmosphere. A pioneering space scientist for more than four decades, Hoffman has explored space from his planetary laboratory at UT Dallas and its predecessor institution since 1966. 

Kusch lectures are free and open to the public. For additional information, please call 972-883-2272.

Media contacts: Brandon V. Webb, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected]
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected]


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Dr. John Hoffman

Dr. John Hoffman developed a key technology that proved vital in discovering water on Mars. 

Mars landscape

The lander took the UT Dallas instrument (the silver box near the center of the frame) to the Mars landscape.

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December 15, 2019