Maria Zuber is the E. A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics and Vice President for Research at MIT, where she is responsible for research administration and policy. She oversees MIT Lincoln Laboratory and more than a dozen interdisciplinary research laboratories and centers. She leads MIT’s Plan for Action on Climate Change and is responsible for intellectual property; research integrity and compliance; and research relationships with the federal government. Zuber has held leadership roles associated with scientific experiments or instrumentation on ten NASA missions, most notably serving as Principal Investigator of the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission. She is the first woman to lead a science department at MIT and the first to lead a NASA planetary mission. Zuber holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and an Sc.M. and Ph.D. from Brown. She is a member of the National Academy of Science, and is a fellow for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, among others. President Obama appointed Zuber to the National Science Board; she was reappointed by President Trump. In 2021, President Biden appointed Zuber to co-chair the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

Research Interests

My research addresses the structure and evolution of solid planetary bodies through combination of theory, observation and computation. In early work I modeled tectonic structures on planetary surfaces using viscoplastic instability theory to infer thermomechanical properties of shallow interiors and to estimate stress states. I analyzed rifts and folds on Venus, Earth and Mars to reconstruct interior thermal profiles and subsurface structure at the time of feature formation. Several broad collaborations later resulted in experiments to map the topography and gravity fields of the Moon, Mars and asteroid 433 Eros, and from the combined data sets we developed the first reliable global models of the internal structures of these bodies. Our work revealed the crustal structure beneath major lunar impact basins, and allowed us to show that the Moon cooled off more rapidly after accretion than had previously been thought. On Mars we demonstrated that the planet contained two crustal provinces that do not correlate with surface geology, and showed the origin of the prominent Tharsis rise to be a consequence of volcanic construction. For Eros we showed that the asteroid was characterized by a strikingly homogeneous interior and we mapped the thickness of the impact-generated regolith.

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Primary Section

Section 16: Geophysics

Secondary Section

Section 15: Geology