John Grant III

John Grant III
Smithsonian Institution Center for Earth and Planetary Studies

2017 G.K. Gilbert Award

Presented to John Grant III

Citation by Peter H. Schultz

John is a Martian. When he entered Brown University 30 years ago, he had already finished an exhaustive study about martian drainage systems that formed the basis of follow-on studies by him and others. For his Ph.D. research, he went back to basics through field studies at Meteor Crater. While Gene Shoemaker emphasized the crater, John focused on the erosion styles and rates of its ejecta, an approach that resolved inconsistencies at the crater and yielded new insights for Mars.

John then applied ground penetrating radar (GPR) to test his models. Rather than a reflection seismometer, he viewed GPR as an in-the-field geologist tool. As his personal “mule” dragging the emitter/receiver across both Meteor and Odessa Craters under temperatures of 127°F, I can attest to John’s insistence on getting it “right.” He’s since used the GPR around the world (e.g., Argentina, Namibia, Yucatan, Egypt, Lake Erie), and over the past 20 years has championed its use for subsurface exploration on future planetary rovers.

In more than 100 publications, his contributions include: recognition of high-latitude streaks/loops as the traces of intense vortices; identification of narrow-valley formation continuing into the Noachian; use of crater statistics to understand surface processes, as well as dating; gradational styles and rates of craters on Mars; and identification of aqueous deposits across on Mars. He is a Science Team member for the Mars Exploration Rovers, Mars Curiosity Rover, the HiRISE camera, and Mars Science Laboratory. After surviving as a NASA Program Scientist and Discipline Scientist at NASA Headquarters, he continues to serve the planetary community through various high-level advisory boards for future Mars missions.

G.K. Gilbert would be proud of his uncompromising field approach for understanding the geologic history of Mars. And I’m quite proud to be the citationist for this award, my first Ph.D. student.

top2017 G.K. Gilbert Award — Response by John Grant III

Thank you Pete, for that wonderful citation. I am humbled to receive the G. K. Gilbert award for 2017 and to have my name on a list of recipients that includes Gene Shoemaker and Pete Schultz among other leaders in the field of planetary geology. I can honestly say that no one could have been more surprised than I was to learn I had been selected for the award.

I was extremely fortunate to begin my professional career during a heyday of Mars exploration. It has been a privilege to do research using data being returned from several wonderful missions to the Red Planet. That, coupled with experience in teaching, managing at NASA, working at the Smithsonian, and helping with Mars landing site selection, has given me the opportunity to work with many brilliant scientists and engineers in a variety of professional fields. As a result, I feel like I have been equipped with the tools to help move our knowledge of the planets forward a bit.

I have many people to thank for helping me find my way in my career. While growing up in a small town in northern New York I was in awe of the discoveries being made by the Viking, Voyager, and other spacecraft. My standing here is proof that anyone with a dream and willingness to work hard and be persistent can accomplish their career goals.

The late Skip Barnett and Glenn Myer were the first to encourage me to get involved in research when I was an undergraduate at SUNY Plattsburgh. The late Jon Boothroyd immersed me in coastal geology and sedimentology and introduced me to the field of planetary geology while I worked on my master’s degree at the University of Rhode Island. He grilled me on the work of G.K. Gilbert during orals, trusted me with independent research at the U.S. Geological Survey at Flagstaff, facilitated collaboration with Don Wise and George McGill at the University of Massachusetts, and got me through my first presentation at GSA back in 1985 in Orlando. And of course Pete Schultz and the faculty at Brown who took a chance on a kid that had not taken a traditional route to a Ph.D. program. Pete’s faith and confidence in me was particularly important in my successful navigation though a dissertation and subsequent post-doc.

I continued to get help once out in the real world. Joe Boyce got me involved in Mars landing site selection. Bruce Campbell thought I would be a good fit at the Smithsonian. And Alfred McEwen, Steve Squyres, Ray Arvidson, and John Grotzinger each took a chance and involved me in leadership roles on instruments and rovers that continue to operate around and on Mars. Last but not least in any sense, Cathy Weitz and our kids are supportive and interested partners in our ongoing Mars exploration.

I am in debt to all of these people in particular and the entire planetary community for their ongoing support. Who would’ve thunk it?