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Research Interests

Dr. Geronimo Villanueva is a planetary scientist at NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center who 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 the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in 2015 honored him with the Urey Prize (young planetary scientist of the year).
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.



2016 - PresentPlanetary Scientist
NASA - Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, USA
2008 - 2016Research Assistant Professor
Catholic University of America at NASA - GSFC, Greenbelt, MD, USA
2005 - 2008National Research Council (NRC) Fellow
NASA - Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, USA
2004 - 2005Post-Doctoral Research Assistant
Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensytemforschung, Germany
2001 - 2004Ph.D. student
Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensytemforschung and
Freiburg University, Germany
1998 - 2001Founder and Director
Tecnoware Medical Software, Mendoza, Argentina
1997 - 1998Director of Systems Development
Logic Express Software, Mendoza, Argentina
1994 - 1996Statistical Analyst and Programmer
Gallup International, Mendoza, Argentina


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.

Research Experience

  • Broad range of expertise in spectroscopic studies of comets, planets (e.g., Mars, Earth, Venus), exoplanets and protoplanetary disks employing powerful observatories: infrared (Keck, VLT, NASA-IRTF, JWST, Gemini South), radio (ALMA, Herschel, APEX, GBT, HHSMT, CSO, JCMT, KP12m) and X-rays/UV (NASA Swift).
  • Lead author of the first mapping of water D/H on Mars (Villanueva+2015, Science), probing the current and ancient volatile reservoirs on the planet.
  • Lead author of the most comprehensive search for organics in the Martian atmosphere (Villanueva+2013, Icarus).
  • Lead author of the first measurement of water D/H of a periodic comet (Villanueva+2009).
  • Lead developer of non-LTE radiative transfer models and quantum molecular models for C2H6, CH3OH, H2O, HDO, HCN, NH3, HNC, HC3N resulting in billions of spectral lines suitable for cometary, planetary and astrophysical sciences, including exoplanets.
  • Discoverer of multiple isotopic carbon dioxide bands on Mars at infrared wavelengths, impacting previous searches for trace species on Mars and further constraining greenhouse energy budgets (Villanueva+2008, Icarus and JQSRT).
  • Lead developer of a unique set of data processing techniques that have allowed the investigation of planetary atmospheres (comets, Mars, exoplanets) with unprecedented sensitivity (Villanueva+2011 JGR, Mumma+2009, Science, Villanueva+2009, Villanueva+2008).
  • Lead designer and developer of the highest resolution spectrometer (GREAT-CTS) onboard SOFIA (Villanueva 2004, Villanueva+2004/2005).
  • Developer of a full non-linear dynamical General Circulation Model (GCM) for Mars (Villanueva 2004, Hartogh+2005).

Mission activities and Professional Duties

  • Group leader for Mars studies, James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) (2013-present).
  • Co-Investigator of the ExoMars Trace-Gas-Orbiter (TGO/NOMAD) 2016 ESA/RKA/NASA mission (2010-present).
  • Member of the Management Operations Working Group (MOWG) for Keck and IRTF telescopes (2011-present).
  • Reviewer of ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) proposals.
  • Project Manager and Scientist of SOFIA-CTS, the high-resolution spectrometer for the SOFIA Airborne Observatory. German Aerospace Center (DLR); following ISO-9001 and FAA guidelines (2001-2005).
  • Expert on Microwave RF development (microstrip/stripline, TEM modeling, detectors), with participation on the development of the Rosetta-MIRO and Herschel-HIFI instruments.
  • Scientific adviser for planetary sciences to ESO for E-ELT and to IRTF for iSHELL.
  • Official Reviewer for the Mars-Express mission, Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (MEX-PFS) Archive. European Space Agency (ESA) (2008).
  • Organizer (SOC) of several international conferences (e.g., cosmochemistry conference in Sweden 2014, astrobiology conference in Chile - Astrobio 2013).
  • 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, Nature, Icarus, Astrophysical Journal, Space Science Reviews Journal, Advances in Space Research, Journal of Geophysical Research, Advances in Geosciences, and PASP.
  • Reviewer of funding proposals submitted to NASA's Planetary Atmospheres, NASA's Astrophysics Data Analysis Program, NASA's Mars Fundamental Research, NASA's Outer Planets Program, NASA's Origins of Solar Systems Programs, and to the Spanish Research and Innovation program (I+D+i).

Honors and Awards

  • Awardee of the 2015 Harold C. Urey Prize for outstanding achievement in planetary research, the highest honor for a young planetary scientist from the American Astronomical Society.
  • The IAU-MPC named asteroid 1981EW17 "(9724) Villanueva", in honor to Dr. Villanueva's research contributions in the area of high-resolution molecular spectroscopy of planetary and cometary atmospheres.
  • Awardee of the NASA Solar System Exploration Division Peer Award (2010).
  • Awardee of the NASA Robert H. Goddard Exceptional Achievement Award in Science (2009, team effort).
  • 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), lead author and co-author of three Astronomy Pictures of the Day (Dec/22/2014, Jan/19/2009, Feb/21/2009).

Education and Public Outreach

  • BBC New Horizons Documentary Series, "Oceans in the Solar System" (2015). The film production included filming in the Atacama desert and a detailed interview about oceans on Mars.
  • 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: Appointed and granted funds by the US Department of State to promote astronomy and physics in under-developed regions of Chile (2013).
  • 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.
  • 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).

Other Information

  • Triple citizenship: Argentina, Italy, USA; born in Mendoza, Argentina.
  • Languages: Spanish (native), English (fluent), German (conversant), French (elementary).


Geronimo Villanueva

Contact Information

Dr. Geronimo Villanueva
Planetary Systems Laboratory
NASA - Goddard Space Flight Center
Code 693, B34:C189
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Tel: +1-301-286-1528

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