A Conversation With Dr. John Hoffman

UT Dallas Prof and Researcher Has Seen His Work Go to the Moon and Beyond

Nov. 17, 2009

Listen: Full Interview (Windows Media streaming; length 42:01 )

Download Part I
–Dr. Hoffman describes the pre- and early years of UT Dallas and research leading up to discovering water on Mars (MP3 file,length 20:31)

Download Part II 
-The discovery of water on Mars, and more (MP3 file, length 21:33)

Recorded June 22, 2009

Transcript of Interview

Hosted by: Brandon V. Webb
UT Dallas Office of Communications

“ A Conversation With…” is a series of informal and unscripted visits with leading figures from The University of Texas at Dallas. From describing what an “aha!” moment feels like to explaining the moment or identifying the person that sparked a lifelong passion, these conversations meander through the minds and memories that make up UT Dallas.

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.

Media Contact: Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected]

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John Hoffman

“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


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May 25, 2018