CRITICAL CONVERSATIONS is a presidential program showcasing distinguished scholars at the forefront of their fields and at the vanguard of shaping how we understand the vital issues, questions and challenges facing our 21st century world.
Celebrating UB’s longstanding history of intellectual leadership and innovation, this program is a vital forum for timely, insightful dialogue about key issues shaping the world around us.
The CRITICAL CONVERSATIONS program spotlights prominent scholars who are leading the conversation about major societal questions and challenges with broad-ranging, cross-disciplinary relevance and impact. From global health concerns and contemporary cultural debates to technological trends and socioeconomic challenges, these are the topics that cut across disciplinary boundaries and geographic borders to shape daily life for us all.
The 2019 CRITICAL CONVERSATIONS program features France A. Córdova, the 14th director of the National Science Foundation (NSF).
An astrophysicist, Córdova oversees the only government agency charged with advancing all fields of scientific discovery; technological innovation; and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. NSF is a $7.5 billion independent federal agency; its programs and initiatives keep the United States at the forefront of science and engineering, empower future generations of scientists and engineers, and foster U.S. prosperity and global leadership.
Córdova is president emerita of Purdue University and chancellor emerita of the University of California, Riverside, where she was a distinguished professor of physics and astronomy. Córdova was the vice chancellor for research and professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Previously, Córdova served as NASA's chief scientist. 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 the Mayo Clinic. She also served as a member of the National Science Board (NSB), where she chaired the Committee on Strategy and Budget. As the director of the NSF, 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 has been awarded several honorary doctorates, including from Purdue and Duke Universities. She is a recipient of NASA's highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal, and was recognized as a Kilby Laureate. The Kilby International Awards recognize extraordinary individuals who have made "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 and the Association for Women in Science.
Córdova is married to Christian J. Foster, a science educator, and they have two adult children.