My educational background includes degrees from The Citadel (B.S. Chemistry), University of Georgia (M.S. Geology), and Harvard (Ph.D. Geology). I've been a member of the UT geology faculty for 36 years and have served as Head of the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences (twice) and Interim Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences (twice). I am involved with a number of professional organizations, including former service as President of the Meteoritical Society, currently President-Elect of the Geological Society of America, and periodically serve as a member of numerous advisory committees for NASA and the National Research Council.
For more than three decades NASA has funded my research on meteorites, and I and the many talented students and postdocs with whom I've been privileged to work have published several hundred scientific papers dealing with the petrology and cosmochemistry of meteorites and their implications for understanding how the solar system formed and evolved. We have focused on chondrites, the most common type of meteorites falling to Earth, and on SNC meteorites, which are igneous rocks from Mars. We've also been involved in devising computer models of the thermal evolution of asteroids, which provide geologic context for measurable mineralogical and geochemical properties (peak metamorphic temperatures, cooling rates, chronology) in meteorites. Most recently, we have been studying HED (howardite, eucrite, diogenite) meteorites, which are igneous rocks from asteroid 4 Vesta – the target of the Dawn spacecraft mission.
I began participating in NASA spacecraft missions in 1997 as a member of the science team for the Mars Pathfinder rover and later for the Mars Global Surveyor orbiter. That interest in mission operations and spacecraft data analysis has continued, and I currently am a co-investigator for the THEMIS instrument on the Mars Odyssey spacecraft mission, which is mapping the Martian surface from orbit. My role in orbiter missions involves interpreting thermal emission spectra and gamma-ray spectra in terms of mineralogy and petrology, so I have a continuing interest in remote sensing. I'm also a co-investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers that have operated on the Martian surface since early 2004 (one rover is still functioning). I serve as a leader in strategic planning for rover operations and am particularly interested in using rover instrument data to interpret the volcanic rocks and the soils that the rovers have analyzed. I am also a co-investigator for the Dawn spacecraft, which orbited asteroid 4 Vesta in 2011-12, and is now en route to asteroid 1 Ceres. On this mission I serve as lead for the surface composition working group and am especially interested in understanding the differentiation of these asteroids.
I'm particularly interested in communicating the excitement of science to the public, so I do a lot of public speaking and have published three popular books introducing meteorites and planetary science, as well as textbooks in geochemistry and in cosmochemistry. I regularly teach undergraduate and graduate courses in petrology, geochemistry, and planetary geology. The visibility and impact of our research program is indicated by recognition from several organizations, including the Meteoritical Society (Leonard Medal), the National Academy of Sciences (J. Lawrence Smith Medal), the American Geophysical Union (Whipple Award), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Fellow), and the Southeastern Conference Universities 2013 Professor of the Year. I'm also the proud namesake for asteroid 5223 McSween.