Mark A. Smith
Dean, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
Mark A. Smith is the Dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Houston and the Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor in Chemistry and Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. His research program focuses on the organic chemistry of the outer planets and ionospheric photochemistry as well as the ion-molecule chemistry of the interstellar medium.
Prior to joining UH as Dean, Dr. Smith was on the faculty of the University of Arizona, where his most recent positions were as Department Head, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry (2002-2010) and Professor of Planetary Science. His research focused on instrument development for the study of space chemistry in support of astronomical observation, current mission data return and future planetary mission design.
Dr. Smith’s early work has focused on the mechanisms by which molecules are formed in the extreme reaches of the galaxy, in interstellar gas clouds and the atmospheres around stars. Developing unique laboratory techniques to study chemistry at temperatures near absolute zero, his laboratory could simulate the extreme environments of space in ways that allow direct observation of the chemical processes.
With the advent of the NASA Cassini mission to Saturn and its moons, his group began to develop laboratory techniques directed toward understanding the beginnings and evolution of the chemistry of carbon on planetary systems, integral to the development of life. This work has focused upon how far organic chemistry can evolve in the absence of life and what forms that chemistry takes. In this way, his group can shape the development of future outer planetary mission instrumentation to maximize the information return in the search for complex chemistry and potential life beyond Earth’s environment.
He has authored more than 100 publications. Dr. Smith earned a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Oregon, an M.S. in organic chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Colorado.