Samuel P. Kounaves is a Professor of Chemistry and Adjunct Professor of Earth & Ocean Sciences at Tufts University He is also an Affiliate Scientist at the NASA-Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a Visiting Professor in the Department of Earth Science & Engineering at Imperial College London. He received a B.S. and M.S. from the California State University-San Diego in 1976/78 and a Ph.D(D.Sc.) from the Université de Genève, Switzerland, in 1985. After post-doctoral fellowships at SUNY-Buffalo and Harvard University, he joined the faculty at Tufts University in 1988.
His research interests are aimed at unraveling fundamental questions in planetary science using the techniques of modern analytical chemistry and electrochemically-based sensors with a focus on biogeochemical analysis in extreme environments. A major area of interest has been the use of in-situ autonomous chemical analysis systems to understand martian aqueous geochemistry, its history, and its potential for supporting past or present microbial life in the regolith or subsurface environments. He is also involved in applying similar techniques to investigate the surface and sub-glacial oceans on the icy moons such as Europa and Enceladus. His group's research in astrobiology is focused on exploring concepts and analytical techniques for unambiguous detection of microbial life in extraterrestrial settings, and the survivability of organics on Mars' surface.
As Co-Investigator for the Phoenix Mars Lander mission, and Lead Scientist for the Wet Chemistry Lab (WCL), he led the first chemical analysis on Mars that revealed an alkaline soil containing a variety of soluble minerals, including perchlorate, a discovery that has altered the way we view the chemistry of Mars and its potential to support life. The discovery of perchlorate on Mars led the group to investigate the same possibility in the Antarctic Dry Valleys. The study provided the first unambiguous discovery and clear evidence of the ubiquitous natural formation of perchlorate on Earth, with accumulation in arid environments and global atmospheric production. The discovery also suggests the hypothesis that the perchlorate reducing bacteria and arachea may be a remnant of a significant pre-oxygen Earth perchlorate ecosystem. The group has also recently confirmed ClO4-, ClO3-, and NO3-, in the Mars meteorites EETA79001 & Tissent, and also in lunar and chondrite meteorites.
In addition to the current investigations exploring Mars' geochemistry and its potential for supporting past or present microbial life in surface or subsurface environments, their research (funded by NASA and NSF) includes understanding the geochemical and environmental history as recorded by the chemistry of planetary surface materials, and the geobiochemistry in extreme environments on Earth in places such as the Antarctic Dry Valleys, Death Valley, the Tindouf Basin (Morocco), the Atacama Desert (Chile), and deep-ocean thermal vents. Most recently they have been funded by NASA to develop a chemical sensor array to study the geochemistry, subglacial ocean chemistry, and habitability of Saturn's moon Enceladus by analysis of the ejected plume material.
Prof. Kounaves has co/authored over 100 peer-reviewed publications and has received over 37 grants from various funding agencies including NASA, NSF, and EPA. He has received numerous honors, including being named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry; Fellow of the Geochemical Society NASA Achievement Awards for the Phoenix Mars mission and his work leading to the first wet chemical analysis in the Martian Arctic; the Massachusetts Quincentennial Exploration & Discovery Award; and the Arno Heyn Award from the NE Section of the American Chemical Society.
Earth Science and Engineering