France A. Córdova

Science Philanthropy Alliance
Academic administrator; Astrophysicist
Leadership, Policy, and Communications
Educational and Academic Leadership

The Honorable France A. Córdova is an astrophysicist and the 14th director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Córdova was nominated to this position by the President of the United States in 2013 and subsequently confirmed by the U.S. Senate. NSF is an $8.1B independent federal agency; it is the only government agency charged with advancing all fields of scientific discovery, technological innovation, and STEM education.

Córdova has been a leader in science, engineering and education for more than three decades. She has a distinguished career in both higher education and government; her contributions in multi-spectrum research on x-ray and gamma ray sources and space-borne instrumentation have made her an internationally recognized astrophysicist.

She is president emerita of Purdue University, where she led the university to record levels of research funding, reputational rankings, and student retention and graduation rates. She focused her tenure on launching tomorrow’s leaders, translating research to innovation and meeting global challenges. She established a new College of Health and Human Sciences at Purdue, as well as a new Global Research Policy Institute, and participated in state-wide initiatives to boost public-private research collaborations.

Córdova is also chancellor emerita of the University of California, Riverside, where she was a distinguished professor of physics and astronomy and laid the foundation for a new medical school, California’s first public medical school in over 40 years, and focused on student diversity and inclusion. At the University of California, Santa Barbara, where Córdova was vice chancellor for research and professor of physics, she led a campus-wide effort to support convergence in blue-sky research areas.

Previously, Córdova served as NASA’s chief scientist, representing NASA to the larger scientific community and infusing the activities of the agency -- including the International Space Station, then under construction -- with the scientific goals of the broader community. She was the youngest person and first woman to serve as NASA’s chief scientist and was awarded the agency’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal.

Prior to joining NASA, she was on the faculty of the Pennsylvania State University where she headed the department of astronomy and astrophysics. Córdova was also deputy group leader in the Earth and space sciences division at Los Alamos National Laboratory. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University and her doctorate in physics from the California Institute of Technology.

More recently, Córdova served as chair of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution and on the board of trustees of Mayo Clinic. She also served as a member of the National Science Board (NSB), where she chaired the Committee on Strategy and Budget. As NSF director, she is an ex officio member of the NSB.

Córdova’s scientific contributions have been in the areas of observational and experimental astrophysics, multi-spectral research on x-ray and gamma ray sources and space-borne instrumentation. She has published more than 150 scientific papers. She was co-principal investigator for a telescope experiment that is currently flying on the satellite XMM-Newton, a cornerstone mission of the European Space Agency.

For her scientific contributions, Córdova has been awarded several honorary doctorates, including ones from Purdue, Duke and Dartmouth Universities. She was honored as a Kilby Laureate, recognized for “significant contributions to society through science, technology, innovation, invention and education.” Córdova was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is a National Associate of the National Academies. She is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Association for Women in Science (AWIS).

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