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France Córdova

First Female Chief Scientist at NASA

More From France

In this video

France Córdova on her moon landing ephipany, solving the big questions at NASA, and female role models in science.

France's Biography

Charity of Choice: Smithsonian
Biggest Influence Never Met: Einstein
Three Words to Describe Herself: Energetic, analytical, and inquisitive 
Proudest Accomplishment: “That I've lived a life of integrity, that I've been true to myself, and as fair and honest to others as I am able to be.”

France A. Córdova, an internationally recognized astrophysicist, once said, “I didn’t have a strategic plan for my life. I have an appetite for discovery. I’m an explorer and I follow my best instincts.” Indeed, those instincts propelled Córdova to become the youngest person and first female chief scientist at NASA.
Córdova's prolific scientific contributions include more than 200 journal articles and reports, as well as numerous critical space-borne instrumentation experiments. Her equally formidable career in academia includes five years as head of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Pennsylvania State University, eight years as a professor of physics and vice chancellor for research at UC Santa Barbara, as well as her position as chancellor and distinguished professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Riverside. She joined Purdue as the university's first woman president and a Professor of Physics and Astronomy in 2007, serving through July 2012. She is currently the President Emerita.
 
Córdova graduated cum laude from Stanford University, and went on to earn her PhD in physics from the California Institute of Technology. Throughout her career, Córdova has received numerous awards and honors including NASA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal, and was recognized as a 2000 Kilby Laureate, for "contributions to society through science, technology, innovation, invention, and education." In addition to serving on a myriad of boards, she is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association for Women in Science, and has received presidential appointments, including one by George W. Bush to the National Science Board in 2008, and another in 2009 by Barack Obama to the Smithsonian's Board of Regents, to which she was subsequently elected as chair.

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