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photo of France Cordova

France Cordova

France Cordova grew up in California, the oldest of twelve children in a Mexican-American family. France gained a serious sense of responsibility from an early age, caring for her younger siblings and helping her parents manage the house. She was as serious about her studies as she was about her family, earning top grades in school. France was named one of California's Ten Outstanding Youth as a senior in high school.

After high school, France went to Stanford University, where she majored in English. During her junior year, she traveled to Mexico to work on an archaeological dig. The trip aroused a new awareness of her Mexican heritage and prompted her to compile a collection of recipes for Mexican food, from which she produced a cookbook. Despite her interest and skill in writing, France soon discovered a new fascination - space science. After watching news coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing and a later documentary about cosmology, France decided to become a scientist. She went back to school and eventually earned a Ph.D. in physics from the California Institute of Technology. After receiving her degree, France went to work at Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico, and later became a professor, then head of the Astrophysics Department at Pennsylvania State University. In 1993, she was named the chief scientist at NASA.

In 1994, France was named one of "America's 100 Brightest Scientists Under 40" by Science Digest magazine. She has received many honors for her work, including a NASA Group Achievement Award. Throughout her scientific career, France has focused her research on pulsars, the relatively small objects that remain in space after a star blasts apart. Her work, as shown in the BreakThrough program, involves using high-powered telescopes and special instruments that identify faint wavelengths of light.

Today, France balances several priorities in her life. She is married and has two young children. She also maintains her position as a professor at Penn State, works full-time in Washington, D.C., at NASA headquarters, and sits on a number of committees and organizations related to space science.

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