France A. Córdova
As the Director of the National Science Foundation, Dr. France A. Córdova is a world renowned astrophysicist, former university president, and NASA Chief Scientist-to name just a few of her accomplishments.
Córdova had a passion for math and science growing up but as women weren’t encouraged to make careers in these fields she earned a degree in English instead. Working as a journalist, her love for science was reignited by the Apollo 11 mission and she returned to school, studying astrophysics at Cal Tech earning a doctorate in 1978.
As a PhD student working with satellite telescopes looking at x-ray emissions from stars her observations gave new insights on the behavior of dying stars. Her career has taken her to some of the top research labs in the U.S. including being a Deputy Group Leader at Los Alamos National Lab.
In 1993 she became the youngest person and the first woman to hold the office of Chief Scientist at NASA where she advocated for missions to both Mars and Saturn. Leaving NASA three years later she transitioned into academia not only as a professor but also in leadership positions including being Chancellor of UC–Riverside.
In 2007 she was appointed President of Purdue University where her administration oversaw the establishing of the schools Global Policy Research Institute and its College of Health and Human Services. At the end of her five year term she was credited with leading the school to record levels of research funding and student retention rates.
During this time she also served on the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institute including a three-year term as its chair staring in 2012. Confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Director of the NSF in 2014 she heads this independent federal agency that is tasked with keeping America on the forefront of science and engineering.
The author of over 150 scientific papers she has been honored many times for her work including being named a Kilby Laureate, designated as one of “America’s 100 Brightest Scientists Under 40” by Science Digest magazine, and being the recipient NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal.
Written by Angela Goad