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03/28/2014 09:51:40

Caltech Alum Córdova Confirmed as NSF Director

The U.S. Senate has approved astrophysicist and Caltech alumna France A. Córdova (PhD '79) as the new director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Currently the chair of the Smithsonian Board of Regents—the Smithsonian Institution's governing board—Córdova will succeed former director Subra Suresh and will replace acting NSF director Cora Marrett on March 31.

After receiving her doctoral degree in physics from Caltech, Córdova spent the next decade at the Los Alamos National Laboratory as a staff scientist and eventually as a deputy group leader. In 1989, she joined the faculty at Pennsylvania State University as head of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. She served in this position until 1993, when she was selected as NASA's chief scientist—becoming the first woman ever selected for the position.

Córdova has also served in additional research and leadership positions including vice chancellor for research and professor of physics at UC Santa Barbara from 1996 to 2002, chancellor and distinguished professor of physics at UC Riverside from 2002 to 2007, and as president of Purdue University from 2007 to 2012.

President Obama nominated Córdova for the NSF directorship in July 2013; the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions approved the president's nomination on January 29, 2014.

With her recent confirmation, Córdova joins several other Caltech alumni who have been nominated to lead or now lead federal research agencies, including the current director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Arati Prabhakar (MS '80, PhD '85), and Ellen Williams (PhD '82), who, in December 2013, was nominated by President Obama to be the next director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy.

Written by Jessica Stoller-Conrad