The 2009 Alexander von Humboldt Medal is awarded to Rafael Navarro-González for his outstanding achievements in the discovery of Mars-like soils in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, a location now being tested by NASA and ESA for new methodologies and/or instrumentations to be sent to Mars in the search for life.
Rafael Navarro-Gonzalez was born in Mexico City on April 25, 1959. He obtained a B. Sci. degree in Biology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1983. Under a severe economical crisis, he immigrated to the USA in the fall of 1984 to carry out a Ph. D. in chemistry at the University of Maryland at College Park, where he graduated in 1989. Under the support of a NASA grant as co-investigator to continue research in the USA, he decided to return to Mexico to expand the Mexican scientific community, and was repatriated in 1991 by the government of Mexico, and joined the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where he became full professor in 2002. Professor Navarro-Gonzalez is an internationally recognized and talented scientist. He has established one of the very best laboratories in Latin-America, and has made fundamental contributions to several fields related to Astrobiology, the origin of life, and life in extreme environments. His research successfully blends laboratory simulations, field work, and theoretical modeling in transdisciplines in chemistry, physics and biology. This sort of dominance is unusual and requires a dynamic and intellectual curiosity beyond normal boundaries. He has published 137 papers, 4 edited books and over 225 abstracts. Among the most significant contributions are those that deal the detection of organics in Mars-like environments from cold (Antarctica), temperate (Atacama) and hot (Mojave and Libya) deserts on Earth. This work has had a profound impact on NASA’s plans for future Mars missions. It is fair to say that this work has resulted in a re-assessment of the Viking results and a redesign of the organic search instrument that will fly to Mars on the next Mars rover. It is not surprising that Prof. Navarro-Gonzalez has been chosen to be a member of the science team for the Sample Analysis at Mars Instrument Suite (SAM) for the NASA Mars Science Laboratory scheduled to be lunched in the fall of 2009.
On the basis of these truly outstanding accomplishments I am honored to be able to nominate Professor Navarro-Gonzalez for the Union Award “Alexander von Humboldt Medal” for 2009 from the European Geosciences Union.
Video of the Alexander von Humboldt Medal Lecture given at the EGU General Assembly 2009.