Richard Zare

made public, Zare may have become the Mars meteorite’s most recognizable spokesperson: the enthusiastic scholar with the salt-and-pepper goatee who told millions of television viewers, “We may all be Martians.”

Though the research in his lab provided a key piece of evidence, Zare does not claim to be an expert on meteorites or Mars. And none of the nine scientists who contributed to the work claims that their findings so far can offer iron-clad proof that tiny micro-organisms thrived in cracks of rock on the Red Planet billions of years ago.

But to friends, his reaction to the possibility of that life is vintage Zare.

“We now don’t know how life began, and that’s fascinating,” Zare told Jim Lehrer of PBS’ NewsHour, in one of the TV appearances that brought on his new fame. If primitive life did evolve on ancient Mars, it could have traveled on meteorites to “seed” ancient Earth, he said. “But if life evolved independently on Mars, as well as Earth, then it is likely to be ubiquitous in the universe.”

Such a finding would change our understanding of our place in the cosmos, Zare says: “It’s almost like the Copernican Revolution, when science overturned the belief that the sun and planets rotate around the Earth.”

Given an audience, colleagues say, Zare can’t resist sharing his delight in the wonders of the natural world ­ and throwing in a lesson about the value of investing in basic research.

Zare told Congress that the Mars research was “one of the most exciting and humbling activities I have had the privilege to be associated with,” and noted that it rested on a long line of basic work from other scientists, and on the American people’s willingness to back that basic science.

“Dick is totally immersed, obsessive, quivering, ebullient about science ­ and he’s the same about teaching,” says friend and mentor Dudley Herschbach (Stanford ’54, MS ’55).

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NOV/DEC 1996

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 Gordon Chang


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