NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Research Interests

Dr. Geronimo Villanueva, a planetary scientist at CUA and NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center, specializes in the search for organic molecules on Mars and on icy bodies. He is the leader for Mars studies for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and scientist for the ExoMars 2016 mission. He also serves as Science and Management advisor to several observatories, including Keck, NASA-IRTF and ALMA. His foundational work on small bodies led the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to name asteroid '9724' after Dr. Villanueva, while his recent work on Mars organics became one of the most popular articles of 2013.
Since completing his Ph.D. studies at the Max-Planck-Institute for Solar-System Research in Germany in 2004, Dr. Villanueva has participated in many projects at three space agencies, NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and DLR (German Aerospace Agency), with a broad range of research experience in planetary, exploration and Space sciences. He is a strong advocate for Space Exploration and Astronomy, participating in numerous public outreach activities, and chosen as Science communicator by the US State Department and Shakira's foundation 'Pies Descalzos' to promote science in developing regions.


Doctorate (Ph.D.), "The High Resolution Spectrometer for SOFIA-GREAT: Instrumentation, Atmospheric Modeling and Observations". Research performed with:
  • Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg
    Faculty for Applied Sciences.
    Institut für Mikrosystemtechnik.
    Kiepenheuer-Institut für Sonnenphysik.
    Ph.D. defense in November 2004 - Magna Cum Laude.
  • Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung (MPS), Lindau, Germany.
  • Deutschen Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR), German Aerospace Agency.
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
  • European Space Agency (ESA).
Master's Certification (Diplomarbeit Anerkennung), Clausthal Technical University, Germany, February 2003.

M.S.T.E Atmospheric Radiometry, Universidad Mendoza, Institute for Environmental Studies, Argentina, 2001.

Honors and Awards

  • Awardee of the NASA Solar System Exploration Division Peer Award (2010).
  • Awardee of the NASA Robert H. Goddard Exceptional Achievement Award in Science (2009).
  • Asteroid 1981EW17 is named '(9724) Villanueva' by the IAU, in honor to Dr. Villanueva's research contributions in the area of high-resolution molecular spectroscopy of planetary and cometary atmospheres.
  • Awardee of the National Research Council (NRC) Fellowship, American National Academy of Sciences (NAS 2005).
  • Author of one of the most popular articles in Planetary Sciences of 2013 (#20 of 2013A as ranked by Elsevier for all its journals) - Villanueva et al., Icarus, Vol. 223-1, pp. 11-27.
  • Article of the day (NASA Astrophysics Data System, Oct/12/2011), co-author of two Astronomy Pictures of the Day (Jan/19/2009, Feb/21/2009).

Scientific Highlights

  • Principal Investigator, Co-Investigator and Collaborator of multiple awarded NASA and NSF grants totaling multi-million dollar research budgets (2005-present).
  • Co-Investigator of the ExoMars Trace-Gas-Orbiter (TGO) 2016 ESA/RKA/NASA mission (2010-present).
  • Leader of James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Mars Science Group (2013-present).
  • Member of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) Science Recommendation Panel (2013-present).
  • Member of the Management Operations Working Group (MOWG) for Keck and IRTF telescopes (2011-present).
  • Lead-Investigator and collaborator of numerous observational campaigns at infrared (NASA-IRTF, Keck-2, VLT, and Gemini South), radio (Herschel, APEX, GBT, HHSMT, CSO, JCMT, and KP12m) and X-rays/UV (NASA Swift) wavelengths (2001-present).
  • Official Reviewer of the Mars-Express, Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (MEX-PFS) Archive. European Space Agency (ESA) (2008-2008).
  • Co-Investigator of the Mars Organic Observer (MOO) mission, a +500 million dollars proposal for NASA's next mission to Mars under the Mars Scout Program (2006-2006).
  • Project Manager and Scientist of the GREAT-CTS spectrometer for the SOFIA Airborne Observatory, German Aerospace Center (DLR); following ISO-9001 and FAA guidelines (2001-2005).
  • Member of the American Astronomical Society (Division for Planetary Sciences), the European Geosciences Union, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE), and the Sigma Xi Honor Research Society.
  • Reviewer of scientific articles submitted to Science, Astrophysical Journal, Space Science Reviews Journal, Advances in Space Research, Journal of Geophysical Research, Advances in Geosciences, and PASP.

Research Experience

2008 - present: Catholic University of America in residence at NASA-GSFC.
  • Development of quantum mechanical models for ethane, methanol and a spectral database of water (H2O, HDO) containing 1200 million lines, applicable to planetary atmospheres (e.g., Earth, Mars), comets, proto-planetary disks and exoplanets, ultimately leading to unprecedented precisions in the description of the infrared spectra of these bodies.
  • Discovery of multiple lines of methane on Mars: in the top ten discoveries of NASA in 2009.
  • First measurement of D/H in water of a periodic comet, tracing the origin of Earth's water.
  • First mapping of D/H on Mars, key for the understanding of the history of water on Mars.

2005 - 2008: NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center, National Research Council (NRC) Fellow, National Academy of Sciences.
  • Discovery of interfering isotopic carbon dioxide bands on Mars, towards the most sensitive search for biomarkers on Mars.
  • First measurement of the volatile composition of the split ecliptic comet 73P/SW3.
  • Astronomer for the Deep Impact Mission, probing the interior of comets.
  • Remote sensing of Mars and comets through high-resolution molecular-spectroscopy at multiple wavelengths: infrared, UV, X-ray, sub-millimeter and microwave.

2004 - 2005: Max-Planck-Institute for Solar System Research, Germany.
  • Post-doctoral fellow, Department of Planetary and Cometary Sciences.
  • Research summary: instrument development, sub-millimeter observations of Mars and comets.

2001 - 2004: Max-Planck-Institute for Solar System Research, Germany.
  • Ph.D. thesis title: The High Resolution Spectrometer for SOFIA-GREAT: Instrumentation, Atmospheric Modeling and Observations.
  • Research summary: the research involved the complete design and development of a new high-resolution spectrometer (CTS) for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), and the development of a Martian GCM (General Circulation Model) -a fully non-linear, global and three-dimensional hydrodynamic model- for the study of the Martian atmosphere through the analysis of the forcing and tracing circulation of atmospheric chemical constituents. Both studies were complemented via observations of the temperature structure of the Martian atmosphere through analysis of fully resolved spectroscopic measurements of CO lines in the sub-millimeter using the new CTS.

2000 - 2001: Institute for Environmental Research (IEMA), Argentina.
  • Research summary: Development of a system to control and monitor a radiometric observatory, for ground-based microwave observations of stratospheric ozone and tropospheric water vapor.

Education and Public Outreach

  • Science lecturer for Shakira's foundation 'Pies Descalzos' with the goal of promoting science and technology to impoverished children in Latin America and in Africa.
  • Science Ambassador as selected by the U.S. State Department in 2013 to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education and research in Chile, with public talks and workshops at numerous educational institutions in Concepcion, Coronel and Santiago Chile.
  • Organizing Scientist of the MAS+ project "Reducing the Digital Divide in Argentina". This project, sponsored by Microsoft, provides training and access to the newest technologies to young students of public schools and universities. In 2006, Dr. Villanueva opened in collaboration with the National Technological University of Argentina and Microsoft a computer lab with 12 new computers, with an initial allocated budget of 1 million dollars. This laboratory is now being used to train students and teachers in ".Net" software technologies.
  • Discovery/Science Channel, "New Life on Mars?" (Jan-2009). The Science Channel prepared a documentary presenting the discovery of methane on Mars, and Dr. Villanueva was invited to present the results and comment on the implications of the discovery to future exploration missions to Mars.
  • Spokesman of the NASA Swift mission (optical, UV, X-ray) for "100 hours of Astronomy" (Apr-2009), a live 24-hour webcast.
  • NASA TV, "Is Mars an Active Planet?" Science Update (Jan-2009). This televised report presented the methane results on Mars and was covered by multiple national and international media stations.
  • Supervision and training of three graduate students: Manuela Lippi (2008-2010, graduate student at the Max-Planck-Institute for Solar System Research in Germany), Lucas Paganini and Ryu Saito (2004-2005, graduate students at the Max-Planck-Institute for Solar System Research in Germany); and four undergraduate students: Rebecca Mickol (2010), Nadezhda Radeva (2007-2008), Justin Nieusma (2007), and Constantine Makrides (2006) under the "Summer Undergraduate Internships in Astrobiology at NASA Goddard".
  • Numerous refereed publications, proceedings/conference presentations, and contributions to public media (press, radio and TV).

Grants and Contracts

  • 2011: Co-Investigator, "In-Depth Analysis of Trace Gas Signatures on Mars", NASA Mars Fundamental Research Program. PI: Michael Mumma. Awarded with excellent reviews.
  • 2011: Co-Investigator, "Comets at Infrared Wavelengths: Cutting Edge Problems in Cometary Science", NASA Planetary Astronomy Program. PI: Michael Mumma. Awarded with excellent reviews.
  • 2010: Co-Investigator, "High resolution solar occultation and nadir spectrometer", ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter Instruments Investigations. PI: Ann Carine Vandaele. Awarded with very good reviews.
  • 2010: Co-Investigator, "The Mars InfraRed Trace Gas Investigation Spectrometer (MIRTIS) for the 2016 Exomars Trace Gas Orbiter", ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter Instruments Investigations. PI: Frank Montmessin. Not awarded.
  • 2010: Principal Investigator, Science PI: Dennis Bodewits, "UVOT Spectroscopy of 9P/Tempel-1 and 103P/Hartley 2, Targets of the Stardust-NeXT and EPOXI Missions", NASA Swift Guest Investigator - Cycle 6. Awarded with very good reviews.
  • 2010: Collaborator, "A Compact Lidar for High Resolution Measurements of Trace Gases", NASA Planetary Instrument Definition and Development, PI: Haris Riris. highly rated.
  • 2009: Collaborator, "Miniaturized Gas Correlation Radiometer For Mapping Multiple Trace Gases on MSO 2016", NASA Planetary Instrument Definition and Development, PI: Emily L. Wilson. Awarded with very good reviews.
  • 2009: Co-Investigator, "Characterizing Oxidized Carbon Emission in Comets with Emphasis on Methanol", NASA Planetary Atmospheres, PI: Michael DiSanti. Awarded with very good reviews.
  • 2009: Collaborator, "An Infrared Study of Volatile Oxidized Carbon in Comets", NASA Planetary Astronomy, PI: Michael DiSanti. Awarded.
  • 2009: Principal Investigator, Science PI: Dennis Bodewits, "Swift UVOT Observations of Stardust's Comet 81P/Wild-2", NASA Swift Guest Investigator - Cycle 5. Awarded with very good reviews.
  • 2009: Principal Investigator, Science PI: Dennis Bodewits, "Swift UVOT Observations of a Target of Opportunity Comet", NASA Swift Guest Investigator - Cycle 5. Awarded with very good reviews.
  • 2008: Principal Investigator, "A comprehensive analysis of eleven years of Mars infrared data", NASA ROSES Planetary Atmospheres. Awarded with excellent reviews.
  • 2008: Collaborator, "Origin and Evolution of Organics in Planetary System", NASA's CAN: NAI Cycle 5, PI: Michael Mumma. Awarded with very good reviews.
  • 2008: Co-Investigator, "Atmospheric Trace Gases on Mars", NASA Planetary Astronomy, PI: Michael Mumma. Awarded with excellent/very good reviews.
  • 2007: Collaborator, "The History of Comets and Our Planetary System as Inferred from D/H ratio, Spin Temperature, and Native Volatile Composition", NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Grants, Planetary Astronomy Program (NSF 05-608), PI: Boncho P. Bonev and Erika Gibb. Awarded.

Participation in review panels of NASA's Planetary Atmospheres, NASA's Mars Fundamental Research, NASA's Outer Planets, NASA's Origins of Solar Systems Programs, and for the Spanish National Evaluation and Foresight Agency (ANEP).

Business Experience

2001 - 2005: Villanueva Wines, Marketing and Logistics in Germany. Wines from a family with long tradition in Mendoza, Argentina.
1998 - 2001: Tecnoware Co., Founder and Director. The firm focused in the development of software solutions for companies needing high connectivity and multiple administrative nodes. Some of the major clients were: ANDINA (a trade company), CARBALLO & Asoc. (a market research institute), BOSTON (an insurance company).
1997 - 1998: Logic Express, Director of System Development. In charge of research and development of new software tools applicable to medical and administration systems. Some of the major clients were: ANDESMAR (one the major courier companies in Argentina), CENTROVISION and CLINICA ZALDIVAR (Ophthalmologic Private Hospitals).
1994 - 1996: Gallup International (Mendoza Region - 2 million inhabitants sample), Statistical Analyst and Programmer. The firm specializes in political and market research, assessments, opinion polling, consumer surveys and conducting market feasibility studies. The clients included the Government of the Province of Mendoza, the main opposition political party of the province, 3 Municipalities governments, the local media, the largest shopping center in Mendoza, Carrefour Mendoza and Walmart Mendoza.

Other Information

  • Double citizenship: Argentina and Italy; born in April 1978, in Mendoza, Argentina.
  • Residence: Maryland (permanent US resident for "Outstanding Research", EB1).
  • Languages: Spanish (native), English (fluent), German (conversant), French (elementary).


Geronimo Villanueva

Contact Information

Dr. Geronimo Villanueva
Solar System Exploration Division
NASA - Goddard Space Flight Center
Code 690.3, B34:250W
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Tel: +1-301-286-1528

NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Goddard Space Flight Center
stat tracker for tumblr