Mary Voytek

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Mary Voytek
Mary Voytek, from
Director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Astrobiology Program
Assumed office
September 15, 2008
President Barack Obama

Dr. Mary A. Voytek is a microbiologist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Reston, Virginia, and director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Astrobiology Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.[1][2] In 2015, Dr. Voytek formed Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS), a systems science initiative by NASA, to search for life on exoplanets.[3][4]


Dr. Voytek's primary scientific interest is biogeochemistry and aquatic microbial ecology; more particularly, environmental controls on microbial transformations of nutrients, xenobiotics, and metals in freshwater and marine systems. Voytek has worked in several extreme environments, including Antarctica, hypersaline lakes, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and terrestrial deep-subsurface sites. She has conducted deep-biosphere studies at the Chesapeake Bay Impact Structure.[2]

Voytek is a member of the American Geophysical Union, since 1990.[5]

At the United States Geological Survey, she heads the Microbiology and Molecular Ecology team.[2]

She took charge of the NASA Astrobiology Program on September 15, 2008, as Interim Senior Scientist for Astrobiology in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.[2]

In December 2010, she defended a news release of NASA on the possibility there might be a principally wider basis of life than so far assumed, following conclusions of a study by Felisa Wolfe-Simon on the arsenic-eating bacterium GFAJ-1, as presenting a "phenomenal finding".[6]


  • A Synopsis of Chesapeake Bay research. With Ian Morris, Sarah E. Libourel Houde, and Wayne Harrell Bell. Center for Environmental and Estuarine Studies, University of Maryland System, 1988
  • Ominous future under the ozone hole: assessing biological impacts in Antarctica. Environmental Defense Fund, Wildlife Program, 1989
  • Relative abundance and species diversity of autotrophic ammonia-oxidizing bacteria in aquatic systems. University of California, Santa Cruz 1996
  • Molecular ecology of aquatic communities. With J. P. Zehr, 1999
  • Preliminary assessment of microbial communities and biodegradation of chlorinated volatile organic compounds in wetlands at Cluster 13, Lauderick Creek area, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. With Michelle M. Lorah and Tracey A. Spencer. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, 2003


  1. ^ Kennedy News. National Aeronautics and Space Administration / Kennedy Space Center. Ed. Jeanne Ryba. November 10, 2011, retrieved November 12, 2011
  2. ^ a b c d Daniella Scalice: Astrobiology – Life in the Universe – Mary Voytek – Biography Archived 2011-11-28 at the Wayback Machine.. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, November 11, 2011, retrieved November 12, 2011
  3. ^ Loff, Sarah (April 21, 2015). "NASA’s NExSS Coalition to Lead Search for Life on Distant Worlds." NASA. Retrieved April 22, 2015.
  4. ^ Tollefson, Jeff (April 17, 2015). "Climate scientists join search for alien Earths." Nature 520, 420. doi:10.1038/520420a.
  5. ^ AGU Elections. American Geophysical Union. Retrieved November 12, 2011
  6. ^ Mike Wall: NASA Hasn't Found Alien Life, But Arsenic Microbe Still 'Phenomenal'., December 2, 2010, retrieved November 12, 2011