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Harry Y. McSween

Chancellor’s Professor
Distinguished Professor of Science

Planetary Geoscience

My educational background includes degrees from The Citadel (B.S. Chemistry), the University of Georgia (M.S. Geology), and Harvard (Ph.D. Geology). I’ve been a member of the UT geoscience faculty for 32 years and have served as Head of the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences.  I am involved with a number of professional organizations, including former service as President of the Meteoritical Society, Chair of the Planetary Division of the Geological Society of America, and Councilor of the Geological Society of America, and am a member of numerous advisory committees for NASA and the National Research Council.

Unlike most geologists, I am drawn to rocks falling from the heavens rather than to those already underfoot. For the past three decades NASA has funded my research on meteorites, and I and the many talented students 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 generally accepted to be igneous rocks from Mars. I’ve also been involved in devising computer models of the thermal evolution of asteroids, which provide geologic context for measurable mineralogic and geochemical properties (peak metamorphic temperatures, cooling rates, chronology) in meteorites.  Most recently, we have been studying HED meteorites, which are igneous rocks from asteroid 4 Vesta – the target of the Dawn spacecraft mission.

I began participation 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 serve as a co-investigator for the Mars Odyssey spacecraft which is mapping the mineralogy and chemistry of 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 which have been operating on the Martian surface since early 2004.  I serve as a leader in strategic planning for rover operations and am particularly interested in using rover instrument data to interpret igneous rocks.  I am also a co-investigator for the Dawn spacecraft, which is scheduled to arrive and go into orbit around asteroid 4 Vesta in 2011, and subsequently to visit asteroid 1 Ceres.

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 aspects of planetary science, as well as textbooks in geochemistry and cosmochemistry.  I regularly teach undergraduate and graduate courses in petrology, geochemistry, and planetary geology. The visibility and impact of this research program is indicated by recognition from several organizations, such as the Meteoritical Society (Leonard Medal), the American Geophysical Union (Fellow),  and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Fellow). I’m also the proud namesake for asteroid 5223 McSween.


Hap McSween

Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
1412 Circle Drive
Knoxville, TN 37996-1410
Phone: (865) 974-9805

Research and Teaching Activities