Xianzhe Jia

Scientist - NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

Where are you from?

I grew up in Anhui, China, came to the U.S. for graduate school, and received my Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles. I then joined the University of Michigan and am currently an associate professor of space science in the Climate and Space Department. I have been living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for almost nine years and absolutely love this lively college town.

Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.

When I was in college, I went on a field trip to the Purple Mountain Observatory in Nanjing, China. There, I learned about the inner workings of different kinds of telescopes and had the chance to operate a solar telescope taking images of the Sun. That's the first time I really felt I made a personal connection with outer space.

How did you end up working on the Europa Clipper project, what is your role, and what part(s) of the project are you working on?

In graduate school, I did my Ph.D. dissertation on developing a plasma interaction model for Ganymede to help interpret the Galileo data. While focusing on Ganymede, I was also intrigued by the diverse properties of the other Galilean satellites. So, after my Ph.D., I started working on some projects related to Io and Europa. I am now a co-Investigator on the magnetometer and PIMS teams of the Europa Clipper mission. Both instruments contribute to Clipper’s magnetic sounding experiment designed to measure properties of Europa's interior and its space environment.

Tell us about a favorite moment in your career.

One of my favorite moments in my career was at the Cassini grand finale event organized by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in September 2017. I got involved in the Cassini mission a few years ago when I came to Michigan and have had the opportunity to get to know and interact with many great scientists on the mission team. Cassini is such a fantastic mission in many respects. It not only acquired a wealth of data that led to numerous discoveries about the Saturn system but also raised a new generation of planetary scientists, including myself. Being present at the grand finale event to celebrate Cassini's enormous success with my family and many of my colleagues was a truly special moment for me.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?

A solid math and physics background would be a useful thing to have in pursuing a career in space physics. Curiosity and persistence are also important.

Who inspires you?

I feel fortunate to have met many incredible teachers throughout my academic and professional career. They have been a great source of inspiration for me.

What do you do for fun outside of JPL/work?

I like playing and watching sports, and soccer and basketball are my favorites. Spending time with my family, especially my 5-year-old son Kelvin, is also great fun that I enjoy outside of work.

What is your favorite space movie/book/image?

I would pick “The Martian.”

Old Data Reveal New Evidence of Europa Plumes

Scientists re-examining data from an old mission bring new insights to the tantalizing question of whether Jupiter’s moon Europa has the ingredients to support life.

Where are they from?

Planetary science is a global profession.