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Astrophysicist France Córdova Tapped to Lead the National Science Foundation

New NSF director. Astrophysicist and former Purdue University president France Córdova has been nominated to be the next head of the National Science Foundation

Smithsonian Institution

A prominent U.S. university administrator is in line to become director of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

President Barack Obama today announced his intention to nominate France Córdova, a 65-year-old astrophysicist, to lead the $7 billion agency. She would replace engineer Subra Suresh, who left this spring after serving less than half of his 6-year term to become president of Carnegie Mellon University.

Born in France and raised in California, Córdova earned her Ph.D. in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1979 and spent 10 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory. She served as chief scientist to NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin from 1993 to 1996 before going to the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 2002 she became chancellor of the University of California, Riverside, and in 2007 she assumed the presidency of Purdue University, where she served a 5-year term.

Córdova will need to be confirmed by the Senate before becoming NSF’s 14th director and the second woman to lead the agency. Although the process is typically a formality—NSF possesses an enviable reputation in Congress—it could also take months. In the meantime, the agency will continue to be run by Cora Marrett, who is believed to have been a strong contender for the position.