James W. Head III

Louis and Elizabeth Scherck Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the Geological Sciences, Professor of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences (Research)
Lincoln Field Building, Room 104
Research Interests Technology & Innovation, US Foreign Policy, Science & Technology Policy, International Institutions
Areas of Interest National and International Human and Robotic Space Exploration and related national policies with particular emphasis on United States, European Space Agency, Russia and China.


James W. Head III is the Louis and Elizabeth Scherck Distinguished Professor of Geological Sciences (Research) in the Department of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences at Brown. He focuses on cooperation in national and international exploration of the Earth and planets. He is presently an Investigator on NASA’s US Lunar Laser Altimeter (LOLA) on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission and ESA’s Mars Express mission (HRSC). He has advised over 30 PhD students, two of them who became NASA Chief Scientist. He has published over 750 papers and is currently engaged in close cooperation with scientific colleagues in the Peoples Republic of China who are working on China’s Lunar and Deep Space Exploration Program, and is an investigator on Russia’s lunar exploration program (Luna 25). He was recently awarded the Geological Society of America Penrose Medal, and the NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute Shoemaker Distinguished Lunar Scientist Medal. He is a Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.


Jim Head’s research is focused on the study of geological processes (volcanism, tectonism, impact cratering and glaciation) that form and modify the surfaces, crusts and lithospheres of planets. He combines studies of how these processes vary with time, and how they interact to produce the historical geological record preserved on the planets. His research includes field studies on active volcanoes in Hawaii and at Mt. St. Helens, volcanic deposits on the Earth’s seafloor with three deep-sea submersible dives, and in cold-climate environments with five field seasons in the Antarctic Dry Valleys, as well as one in the Arctic. He is currently working with astronomer colleagues to assess the nature of planets around other stars in relation to planets in our Solar System. His global interests in Solar System exploration have engaged him in international space cooperation efforts: he has served as a delegate on the US/USSR Joint Working Group on Solar System Exploration, the NASA delegation to the Interagency Consultative Group, and on the NASA Advisory Council Task Force on International Relations.


Qiao, L., J. W. Head III, Z. Ling, L. Wilson, L. Xiao, J. D. Dufek, and J. Yan (2019), Geological characterization of the Ina shield volcano summit pit crater on the Moon: Evidence for extrusion of waning-stage lava lake magmatic foams and anomalously young crater retention ages, J. Geophys. Res., 124, 1100-1140, doi: 10.1029/2018JE005841. Ramsley, K., and J. W. Head III (2019), Origin of Phobos grooves: Testing the Stickney crater ejecta model, Planetary and Space Science, 165, 137-147, doi: 10.1016/j.pss.2018.11.004.

Deutsch, A. N., J. W. Head III, and G. A. Neumann (2019), Age constraints of Mercury's polar deposits suggest recent delivery of ice, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 520, 26-33, doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2019.05.027.

Palumbo, A. M., and J. W. Head III (2019), Oceans on Mars: The possibility of a Noachian groundwater-fed ocean in a sub-freezing martian climate, Icarus, 331, 209-225, doi: 10.1016/j.icarus.2019.04.022. Palumbo, A. M., J. W. Head III, and R. D. Wordsworth (2018), Late Noachian Icy Highlands climate model: Exploring the possibility of transient melting and fluvial/lacustrine activity through peak annual and seasonal temperatures, Icarus, 300, 261-286, doi: 10.1016/j.icarus.2017.09.007.

Qian, Y. Q., L. Xiao, S. Y. Zhao, J. N. Zhao, J. Huang, J. Flahaut, M. Martinot, J. W. Head III, H. Hiesinger, and G. X. Wang (2018), Geology and scientific significane of the Rümker region in northern Oceanus Procellarum: China's Chang'E-5 landing region, J. Geophys. Res., 123, 1407-1430, doi: 10.1029/2018JE005595.

Head III, J. W., and L. Wilson (2017), Generation, ascent and eruption of magma on the Moon: New insights into source depths, magma supply, intrusions and effusive/explosive eruptions (part 2: observations), Icarus, 283, 176-223, doi: 10.1016/j.icarus.2016.05.031.