Dr. Jonas Zmuidzinas, Chief Technologist

A native of Southern California, Jonas Zmuidzinas received his Bachelor of Science in physics from Caltech in 1981 and his doctorate in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1987. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Illinois from 1988 through 1989 and then joined the California Institute of Technology faculty as an assistant professor of physics in 1990. He became associate professor in 1995, professor in 2000, and Merle Kingsley professor in 2010. Zmuidzinas has collaborated closely with JPL scientists and technologists since joining the Caltech faculty. He has held a joint appointment as JPL senior research scientist since 2006 and served as director for the JPL Microdevices Laboratory from 2007 to 2011 before moving into his current role as JPL chief technologist.

His research interests center on astrophysics at submillimeter and far-infrared wavelengths, including the development of the technology needed to fully exploit this portion of the spectrum. As a graduate student, he helped build a far-infrared laser heterodyne spectrometer that was used for astronomical observations on the NASA Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO). At the University of Illinois, and later at Caltech, he focused on pushing superconducting tunnel junction (SIS) mixer technology into the THz range. This work provided the basis for instruments developed for KAO and its successor, SOFIA, with Zmuidzinas serving as principal investigator, as well as making Caltech/JPL hardware contributions to the HIFI instrument now flying on the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory. Starting in the late 1990s, his efforts shifted toward developing the detector and instrument technologies needed for observing distant, high-redshift submillimeter-bright galaxies. This goal motivated the invention of a simple, highly multiplexable superconducting detector array concept (MKIDs), the initiation of a project to construct the first broadband grating spectrometer for mm-wave redshift measurement (Z-Spec), and involvement in a multi-institutional effort to construct a 25-meter submillimeter-wave telescope (CCAT) at a 5,500 meter (about 3.4 miles) altitude site in the Chilean Andes.


  • Aerial view of JPL's main facility near Los Angeles

    Aerial view of JPL's main facility near Los Angeles

    About twice the size of California's Disneyland, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a 177-building campus situated in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. In addition to a mission control center and 9,600 square-foot clean room, the lab is home to a simulated Mars landscape called the Mars Yard, as well as a 25-foot space simulator. In the fall of 2009, JPL unveiled its newest building, the environmentally friendly Flight Projects Center, which houses missions during their design and development phases.

  • Aquarius Earth ocean satellite

    Aquarius Earth ocean satellite

    The Aquarius satellite, scheduled for launch in June 2011, will break new ground in the investigation of sea surface salinity, a major component of Earth climate studies. Just within a few months, Aquarius will collect as many sea surface salinity measurements as the entire 125-year historical record, offering a better understanding of the water cycle and ocean circulation, and providing an essential missing piece to the global climate change puzzle.

  • Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres

    Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres

    Launched in 2007, Dawn is the first spacecraft designed to orbit two different bodies after leaving Earth. In July 2011, it will arrive at the giant asteroid Vesta, which it will orbit before departing to reach the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015. The feat is enabled by Dawn's use of ion engines to gradually accelerate the spacecraft.

  • Juno mission to Jupiter

    Juno mission to Jupiter

    One of four JPL missions set to launch in 2011, the Juno spacecraft will study the giant gas planet Jupiter to help understand its origins and evolution. Because of its mass, Jupiter -- the largest planet in the solar system -- still holds much of its original composition. By investigating Jupiter's core, intense magnetic field, auroras and atmospheric composition, scientists hope to collect important clues about the formation of the solar system when Juno arrives at the planet in 2016.

  • GRAIL lunar gravity mission

    GRAIL lunar gravity mission

    Flying twin spacecraft in tandem orbits, the Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL, mission will launch in September 2011 to measure the moon's gravity field in unprecedented detail. The mission will also answer longstanding mysteries about Earth's moon -- including the possible existence and composition of an inner core -- and the origins of the solar system.

  • Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover

    Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover

    Could Mars ever have hosted environments conducive to life? Mars Science Laboratory will look for answers when the flagship mission launches in fall 2011 taking the largest-ever rover, Curiosity, to the Red Planet. In addition to its science capabilities, the mission boasts innovations in landing and surface exploration technologies, which will allow its Curiosity to land more accurately and explore more terrain than ever before.

  • NuSTAR x-ray telescope

    NuSTAR x-ray telescope

    The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, will carry the first focusing hard X-ray telescope to study the evolution of massive black holes, supernova explosions and active galaxies. NuSTAR is planned for launch in spring 2012.

  • Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif.

    Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif.

    One of three antenna's across the globe, the Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif. is key in communicating with and even controlling distant spacecraft and robots. The 70-meter-diameter (230-foot) dish is capable of interpreting even the tiniest spacecraft signals from millions of miles away. Together with antennas in Canberra, Australia, and Madrid, Spain, the Goldstone antenna is an essential communication portal for robotic spacecraft throughout the solar system.

  • Nanotechnology research to help diagnose and treat brain tumors

    Nanotechnology research to help diagnose and treat brain tumors

    Technologies originally developed for space missions often find their way to Earth to improve the quality of day-to-day life. As one example, JPL researchers have partnered with the City of Hope to explore the potential of carbon nanotubes -- used in various space applications to help produce electrons -- to diagnose and treat brain tumors. Initial studies on mice have shown that the tubes are an effective and non-toxic means of transporting cancer-fighting agents to the brain.