France Córdova has been a leader in science, engineering and education at universities, national labs and government science agencies. She is currently president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance. She is recognized for her contributions in multi-wavelength astrophysical research and space instrumentation. Córdova was the 14th Director of the National Science Foundation. She is the only woman to have served as president of Purdue University. She is also chancellor emerita of the University of California, Riverside, where she was a distinguished professor of physics and astronomy. Córdova was the youngest person and first woman to serve as NASA’s chief scientist and was awarded the agency’s Distinguished Service Medal. Córdova has been awarded the Kennedy-Lemass Medal from Ireland, and is a Kilby Laureate for “significant contributions to society through science, technology, innovation, invention and education.” She was inducted into the California Hall of Fame and the Stanford University Multicultural Hall of Fame. She has been elected to the National Academy of Science, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is an Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy. She has served as Chair of the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents. Córdova received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Stanford University and her PhD in physics from the California Institute of Technology.

Research Interests

France Córdova, an astrophysicist, has been active in science policy, science administration, and science philanthropy. Her early astronomy research was on condensed matter objects in the universe - dying stars like black holes, neutron stars, and white dwarfs. Her goal was to better understand their nature and evolution, and the accretion process in close binary stars, including the effects of strong magnetic fields. She discovered soft X-ray pulsations from cataclysmic variable stars in outburst and she identified several new soft X-ray sources using X-ray data from various space missions, coupled with observations at other wavelengths. She was in the vanguard of those performing multiwavelength observations of cosmic sources, using space and ground-based telescopes at various wavelengths from radio to gamma rays. She edited the first book on Multiwavelength astrophysics and was a co-investigator on the first multiwavelength space platform, XMM-Newton, a cornerstone mission of the European Space Agency's Horizon 2000 program. Her experiment, a UV/optical telescope, is still flying and gathering data simultaneously with X-ray telescopes on the satellite. It became the prototype for a similar telescope on the Neil Gehrels (Swift) satellite. Her current scientific interest is in understanding the nature of dark matter.

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Primary Section

Section 13: Physics

Secondary Section

Section 12: Astronomy