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.


  • Earth

    A look at our home planet

    Three Earth missions launching in 2014 will take a closer look at our home planet to study various processes and their link to climate change. The Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP, spacecraft will measure soil moisture from space. ISS-RapidScat will measure ocean winds from its perch aboard the International Space Station and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, or OCO-2, will study carbon dioxide from space.

  • Dawn  mission to Vesta and Ceres

    Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres

    Having finished its exploration of Vesta in September 2012, capturing stunning views of the giant asteroid’s surface, Dawn is currently on its way to its second destination, Ceres. Dawn is the first spacecraft designed to orbit two different bodies after leaving Earth, a feat enabled by its ion thrusters, which are much more efficient than a typical spacecraft engine.

  • Juno mission to Jupiter

    Juno mission to Jupiter

    The Juno spacecraft, on target for a 2016 arrival at Jupiter, is designed to study the gas giant to better understand its origins and evolution, . Because of its mass, Jupiter still holds much of its original composition. By peering beneath Jupiter’s thick cloud cover and investigating its core, intense magnetic field, auroras and atmospheric composition, scientists hope to collect important clues about the formation of the solar system.

  • Voyager 1 in interstellar space

    Voyager 1 in interstellar space

    Launched in 1977 – shortly after its twin, Voyager 2 – the Voyager 1 spacecraft has spent more than 35 years journeying through the solar system. It surpassed Pioneer 10 in 1998 to become the most distant human-made object. And in August 2012 it became the first spacecraft to reach interstellar space, a newly defined region of the solar system described as “the space between stars.”

  • Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover

    Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover

    After a nail-biting landing on Mars in August 2012, Curiosity, the largest and most technologically advanced rover yet, got straight to the goal at hand: searching for signs that the Red Planet could have once supported life. Not even a year later, an analysis of a rock sample collected by the rover showed that ancient Mars could have, in fact, supported living microbes. The mission, which is designed to operate until the summer of 2014, is currently continuing its exploration of Mars.

  • NuSTAR x-ray telescope

    NuSTAR x-ray telescope

    Since the mission’s first light in June 2012, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has begun sussing out black holes, supernova explosions and active galaxies using a first-of-its-kind telescope capable of focusing the highest-energy X-ray light into detailed pictures. The observations could help astronomers crack unsolved mysteries about black holes.

  • Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif.

    Deep Space Network

    Serving as the world’s premier spacecraft communications and navigation system for more than 50 years, the Deep Space Network, or DSN, consists of giant antennas stationed at 120-degree intervals around the world – in Goldstone, Calif., Madrid and Canberra, Australia. The network’s 230-foot (70-meter) antennas are capable of interpreting even the tiniest spacecraft signals from billions of miles away. The network also works as a science instrument in its own right by using radio signals to study the composition of planets and track the trajectories of near-Earth objects like asteroids and comets.

  • 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.

  • 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.