Catherine Cesarsky has performed research activities in several central areas of modern astrophysics, interstellar medium, high energy astrophysics, infrared astronomy, galaxy evolution. Born in France, she holds a Physics degree from University of Buenos Aires, and a PhD in Astronomy from Harvard University. She then worked at the California Institute of Technology. In 1974, she moved to France and joined the Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique (CEA). From 1985 to 1993, she was Head of Astrophysics at CEA, and from 1994 to 1999 she was Director of CEA basic research in physics and chemistry. From 1999 to 2007, she was the Director General of the European Southern Observatory. From 2006 to 2009 she was President of the International Astronomical Union. From 2009 to 2012, she was High Commissioner for Atomic Energy in France, advisor to the French government for science and energy issues. Since then, she is High level Science Advisor at CEA. Throughout her career, she held numerous functions related to her expertise. At present, she is, in particular, the first Chairperson of the Council of the newly created Intergovernmental organization SKA Observatory.

Research Interests

In the first part of my career, I did theoretical and phenomenological work in high-energy astrophysics. I studied cosmic ray propagation, and developed an energy-dependent leaky box model based on resonant interactions of cosmic rays with hydromagnetic waves, in relation with interstellar turbulence and the heating of the interstellar medium. With P. O. Lagage, we studied diffusive particle acceleration in astrophysical shocks, and established an upper limit to the energy that cosmic rays can gain from a supernova shock through this mechanism. Subsequently, I have led the development of the camera on board of the Infrared Space Observatory, and organized the ISOCAM Central programme, which provided new insights into infrared emission from the diffuse interstellar medium and normal galaxies, star formation in molecular clouds, dust formation in supernovae, dust embedded star formation in colliding galaxies, etc. I was the Principal Investigator of the ITGES collaboration, which conducted deep surveys with ISOCAM, with a gain in sensitivity with respect to the previous mission, IRAS, of more than three orders of magnitude. We showed that the dominant contributors to the considerable energy in the Cosmic Infrared Background are Luminous Infrared Galaxies with median redshift 0.8. We continue our studies on galaxy evolution, using space as well as ground-based facilities, and in particular the ESO Very Large Telescope.

Membership Type

International Member

Election Year


Primary Section

Section 12: Astronomy

Secondary Section

Section 13: Physics