Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen

Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen

Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate

Scientific discovery is one of humanity’s most important endeavors. Using the tools of exploration, we can better understand our world and our universe and ultimately learn more about ourselves. All discovery is interconnected, and no important question stands alone. As NASA’s Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen is tasked with helping us answer some of humanity’s biggest questions: Where did we come from? Are we alone? How does the universe work? Dr. Zurbuchen is well versed in the practice of asking difficult questions that help us seek interconnected answers leading to real world impacts. He is keenly interested in innovation and how leadership is developed and how the pursuit of excellence can help change the world. 

Growing up in Switzerland, Dr. Zurbuchen was a keen observer of the natural world from an early age. His curiosity led him to pursue degrees in physics, and he has served on and led innovative scientific teams that have helped enlarge our perspective on the solar system and the universe. Previous points of focus have been the planet Mercury and our Sun. He was also a professor of space science and aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He was the founding director of UM’s Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering and developed and ran several campus wide innovation initiatives, one of which led to the top-ranked undergraduate entrepreneurship program nationally.

On a daily basis, Zurbuchen works to ensure that NASA’s science missions build partnerships across disciplines and with industry and other nations to generate new questions and help advance the frontiers of knowledge and exploration. He brings a wealth of scientific research, engineering experience and hands-on knowledge to NASA’s world-class team of scientists and engineers. Zurbuchen sets the NASA Science strategy and inspires the teams to carry it out.

During his career, Zurbuchen has authored or co-authored more than 200 articles in peer reviewed journals in solar and heliospheric phenomena. He earned his doctorate and Master of Science degrees in physics from the University of Bern in Switzerland.

Dr. Zurbuchen’s honors include multiple NASA achievement awards, induction as a member of the International Academy of Astronautics and the 2018 Heinrich-Greinacher prize, the leading science-related recognition from the University of Bern.

From NASA, Dr. Zurbuchen has been recognized with the 2020 Outstanding Leadership Medal for leadership and critical support in leading the Science Mission Directorate, and advancing scientific knowledge, making a profound impact on NASA's mission, programs and projects, the 2021 Presidential Rank Award, the highest annual award for US government career senior executive service members for sustained extraordinary accomplishment, and the 2022 Distinguished Service Medal for extraordinary contributions and outstanding leadership to NASA's mission and the Nation's space program.

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