MIT Kavli Institute Directory

Peter G. Ford

Principal Research Scientist

Dr. Ford obtained his B.A. in physics from Oxford University in 1966 and his Ph.D. in theoretical elementary particle physics in 1973 from Brandeis University where his thesis advisor was Howard Schnitzer. After three years of post-doctoral research in Paris and Nijmegen, he came to MIT in 1976 to learn very long baseline interferometry from Irwin Shapiro. In 1978 he joined the MIT planetary radar group under Gordon Pettengill, with whom he has collaborated on the Pioneer Venus Orbiter, Magellan, Shuttle Imaging Radar, and Mars Global Surveyor missions.

While studying planetary surfaces, Dr. Ford became interested in improving the collection and dissemination of remote sensing data. He was a member of NASA’s PSASS committee that created the Planetary Data System, becoming the deputy director of its Geoscience Node. His General Image Processing System, a set of computer programs distributed by MIT, became popular with planetary scientists, and his “nasanews@mit” service was a pre-web demonstration of news dissemination via the Internet. From 2005-2010, Dr. Ford served on the Scientific Computing Committee of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and he currently chairs the Kavli Committee on High Performance Computing.

In 1995, Dr. Ford joined the team that was building ACIS, the Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer, for the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. As flight software manager, he wrote the software for the on-board processors that distinguish x-rays from background noise, and he continues to manage ACIS flight and ground support systems. While MIT’s HETE-2 spacecraft was reporting the direction of gamma-ray bursts, he used ACIS to observe their afterglows, and he has also teamed with colleagues in the US and UK to observe x-rays from Jupiter and Saturn.

Dr. Ford has helped to design the science operations architecture for the CRaTER instrument on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and for the Interplanetary Boundary Explorer mission.

Some Research Results

Venus global topography from the Magellan Radar Altimeter (1990-2). Venus global emissivity from the Magellan radiometer (1990-2) Jupiter’s soft x-ray flux from the ACIS imaging spectrometer (Chandra, 2010)


Research interests: 
  • Microwave remote sensing of asteroids, moons, and rocky planets
  • x-ray spectroscopy of planetary magnetospheres
  • the description of remote-sensing data sets and of algorithms that operate upon them.
Representative publications: 

1) “Venus Surface Radiothermal Emission,” G. H. Pettengill, P. G. Ford, and R. J. Wilt, J. Geophys. Res., 97, E8, 13,091-13,102 (1992).

2) “Venus Topography and Kilometer-Scale Slopes,” P. G. Ford and G. H. Pettengill, J. Geophys. Res., 97, E8, 13,103-13,114 (1992).

3) “Winter Clouds over the North Martian Polar Cap,” G. H. Pettengill and P. G. Ford, Geophys. Res. Lett., 27, No. 5, p. 609-612, (March 1) 2000.

4) “Discovery of Soft X-ray Emission from Io, Europa, and the Io Plasma Torus,” R. F. Elsner, G. R. Gladstone, J. H. Waite, F. J. Crary, R. R. Howell, R. E. Johnson, P. G. Ford, A. E. Metzger, K. C. Hurley, E. D. Feigelson, G. P. Garmire, A. Bhardwaj, D. C. Grodent, T. Majeed, A. F. Tennant, and M. C. Weisskopf, Astrophys. J., 572, 1077-1082, 2002.

Honors and awards: 

Peter Ford, Catherine Grant, and Royce Buehler were part of a group that received a NASA Group Achievement Award on July 18, 2013. They were the ACIS Radiation Detection and Safing Team.  “This prestigious NASA certificate is awarded to any combination of government and/or non-government individuals for an outstanding group accomplishment that has contributed substantially to NASA's mission. For example, effective management of cost and schedule; customer satisfaction; or success in responding to unforeseen crises.”

Contact Information

t: 617-253-6485 617-253-7277