The first female president of the International Astronomical Union, Catherine Cesarsky, earned this position with a distinguished career in several areas of modern physics.
After receiving her doctorate in astronomy from Harvard in 1971 she became a research fellow at the California Institute of Technology from which she transitioned in 1974 to Service d’Astrophysique a major space laboratory in France starting as a staff member and working her way to being the head of the SAp until 1994 when she became the Director of Direction des Sciences de la Matière where she was the team leader for close to 3000 scientists in varying fields.
As part of her work at DSM she was the Principal Investigator of the ISOCAM camera on board the infrared Space Observatory of the European Space Agency and led the analysis of the data collected on star formation and galactic evolution. In 1999 she became the Director General of the European Southern Observatory, an intergovernmental research organization for astronomy that has sixteen member nations.
While at the ESO she was responsible for the completion of the construction of the Very Large Telescope, the beginning of the construction of The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), and she launched the studies for the European Extremely Large Telescope. These telescopes are designed as the best in the world, with the VLT being considered the most productive ground based facility for astronomy among those operating at visible wavelengths. During this time she was also elected for a three year term as the President of the International Astronomical Union.
Beginning in 2006 Cesarsky served in this role including the 2009 celebration of the International Year of Astronomy. Departing the ESO in 2007 to become the High Commissioner of Atomic Energy in France she is an advisor to the French government on science and energy issues. The author of more than 350 scientific papers she also acts as the chair of the Science Program Committee for the French Space Agency and continues her research in galactic evolution.
Written by Angela Goad