Particle physics laboratory

Caltech appoints new director of Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

Laurie Leshin officially assumes her role as director of NASA’s JPL and vice president of Caltech in May.
Credit: photo courtesy of Worcester Polytechnic Institute

The distinguished geochemist and space scientist brings more than 20 years of leadership experience in academic and government service to JPL.

Laurie Leshin, president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), has been named director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and vice president of Caltech. Leshin will officially take office on May 16, 2022, succeeding Michael Watkins, who retired in August 2021, and Lt. Gen. Larry D. James USAF (Ret.), who is currently acting director of JPL.

She joins JPL from WPI, one of the nation’s oldest private STEM universities, where she has served as president since 2014. She is the first female president in the university’s 150-year history and will be JPL’s first female principal.

“Laurie Leshin has stood out in comprehensive international research because of her deep commitment to people, her strategic approach to scientific and technological opportunities, her deep appreciation of ">Nasain space exploration and earth sciences, his mastery of complex organizations and his ability to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers,” said Caltech President Thomas F. Rosenbaum, Presidential Chairholder Sonja and William Davidow and professor of physics. “We are very happy to be able to welcome Laurie back to campus and to JPL. »

“NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a long history of challenging what was once considered impossible in space exploration. In this new era of groundbreaking discoveries and constant innovation, it’s clear that Dr. Laurie Leshin has a record of scholarship and leadership necessary to serve as director of JPL and cement the center’s status as a world leader in the 21st century,” says NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. , the technology invented at JPL will continue to enable humans to explore the places in our universe we cannot yet reach and to spark the imaginations of future mathematicians, engineers, and pioneers in classrooms across America. I want to thank Mike Watkins and General Larry James for their contributions that the JPL team will rely on for decades to come.

Celebrating the landing of NASA's Curiosity rover

Laurie Leshin, second from left, celebrates the landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover on August 5, 2012, with other members of JPL science teams. Leshin is a co-investigator on two of the rover’s instruments, the Mars Sample Analysis Tool (SAM) and the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS). Previously, she served as the mission’s long-range planner.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Leshin is an internationally renowned scientist whose career has spanned academia and leadership positions at NASA, and included two appointments to the White House. She has been hailed for her steadfast leadership in the space industry and in academia, as well as for her achievements as a distinguished geochemist and space scientist.

“I am both thrilled and honored to be appointed Director of JPL. In many ways, this feels like a homecoming. Some of the most defining experiences of my career have taken place on the Caltech campus and at JPL – the lessons learned and goals achieved that have shaped me as a space leader and scientist The opportunity to once again work closely with so many Caltech colleagues – in the lab and on campus – and to NASA is a dream come true,” says Leshin. “We have tremendous opportunities ahead of us to leverage JPL’s global leadership in robotic space exploration to answer awesome science questions and improve life here on Earth. I look forward to working with Caltech and NASA to ensure that JPL continues to drive innovation in the global space ecosystem. Finally, I am particularly honored to be the first woman to hold the title of Director of JPL. I know from personal experience that diverse teams have greater impact, and I will work every day to ensure that JPL is a place where everyone belongs and thrives. We will dare great things, together.

In 2005, she became director of science and exploration at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and in 2008 she was promoted to Goddard’s deputy director for science and technology, where she and her colleagues were responsible. strategy, planning and implementation of more than 50 land and spaceflight projects. In 2010, Leshin assumed the role of Deputy Associate Administrator of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, where his work involved overseeing the future human spaceflight program, including efforts to establish commercial crew capabilities and elements of what is now the Artemis program. . In this role, Leshin also worked to catalyze global space exploration by engaging with international space organizations and companies, and developing new technologies and robotic missions to create new possibilities for humans to travel to places. destinations deeper in the solar system. Leshin left NASA in 2011 to join Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as Dean of the School of Science.

At WPI, Leshin focused on expanding research, WPI’s global projects program, and ways to address gender disparity in STEM. Additionally, during his presidential tenure, new academic and collaborative spaces were developed on the WPI campus, including a 40,000 square foot innovation studio, with flexible and creative space for learning classrooms. active, and the new Unity Hall, a 100,000-square-foot academic building focused on robotics engineering, data science, cybersecurity, science and technology learning, and other emerging interdisciplinary programs. WPI is now among the STEM institutions with the highest percentage of female undergraduates and is recognized for its balance of excellence in teaching and groundbreaking research.

Along with his administrative career, Leshin has continued his scientific endeavors, which focus on deciphering the water record on objects in our solar system. For example, she was a member of ">March Science lab science team that analyzed data collected by the Curiosity rover to find evidence of the presence of water on the surface of Mars. She has also been involved in planning and advocating for the Mars Sample Return missions for over two decades.

Raised in Arizona, Leshin earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Arizona State University (ASU), followed by master’s and doctoral degrees in geochemistry from Caltech. After a postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA, she was professor of geological sciences at ASU and director of its Center for Meteorite Studies. Before leaving ASU for NASA, she led the formation of ASU’s groundbreaking Earth and Space Exploration School.

Leshin is a recipient of NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal and Distinguished Public Service Medal, and the Meteoritical Society’s Nier Prize, awarded for outstanding research in meteoritics or planetary science by a scientist under the age of 35. The International Astronomical Union recognized his contributions to planetary science with the name of asteroid 4922 Leshin.

In 2004, Leshin served on President George W. Bush’s Commission on Implementing United States Space Exploration Policy, a nine-member commission tasked with advising the President on the execution of his new vision. for space exploration. In 2013, President Barack Obama appointed Leshin to the advisory board of the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution. Since 2016, she has co-chaired the National Academies Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable.

In 2021, Leshin received Caltech’s Distinguished Alumni Award, which is given annually by the Institute in recognition of personal and professional achievements that have had a notable impact in a broader field, community, or society.

A committee consisting of Caltech administrators, professors, senior administrative officials, and two members of the JPL community conducted extensive research and recommended Leshin to Caltech’s president. JPL, which was founded by Caltech faculty and students in 1936, has been operated by Caltech on behalf of NASA since 1958.

Acting Director, Lt. Gen. James, will return to his position as Deputy Director when Leshin officially takes office.