Thomas Zurbuchen

Keynote Speaker

Thomas H. Zurbuchen, known in the space community as Dr Z., is a Swiss-American astrophysicist, leader and innovator.

He was the longest-serving head of NASA’s Science Division, the world’s leading programme for science in and from space, from October 2016 to 2022. During this time, he was a leader in all areas of space exploration, launching 37 missions and initiating 54 more. His achievements include launching the James Webb International Telescope, leading two Mars landings – the Perseverance rover and the first controlled flight from Earth with the Ingenuity helicopter – and developing the Parker Solar Probe, a mission to touch the sun. He also designed and led the Earth System Observatory, an advanced, multi-platform observatory that provides a holistic 3D view of the Earth – from bedrock to atmosphere – and oversaw mankind’s first successful attempt to move a celestial object by impact from a spacecraft.

Dr Zurbuchen was born in Switzerland in 1968, was the first university graduate in his family, studied physics at the University of Bern with a minor in mathematics and obtained his doctorate in 1996 with a thesis on “Turbulence in the interplanetary medium and its effects on the dynamics of minor ions”.

In the same year, Dr Zurbuchen moved to the USA and became a research associate at the University of Michigan, where he was appointed Professor of Space Science and Aerospace Engineering in 2008. His scientific research focuses on solar and heliospheric physics, experimental space research and space systems. He is also known for his work on innovation and entrepreneurship. During his time at the University, Dr Zurbuchen co-founded the Center for Entrepreneurship, which has been recognised as a leading undergraduate programme in the US.

During his career, Dr Zurbuchen built several space instruments, such as the MASS sensor on NASA’s WIND spacecraft, launched in 1992, and the Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer, for which he served as team leader on NASA’s Messenger spacecraft, the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury.

Dr Zurbuchen’s achievements have made him an internationally sought-after expert in innovation and the leadership of pioneering organisations. For example, he chaired the US National Academy of Sciences committee that produced a report on CubeSats in 2016, which is widely recognised for diversifying mission portfolios and technical approaches to science and Earth observation.

Events with Thomas Zurbuchen

Building a Superteam: Leadership Lessons from NASA

26.03.2024 | 10:00 – 11:00


Main Stage