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Catherine Jeanne Cesarsky (born 24 February 1943) is a French astronomer, known for her successful research activities in several central areas of modern astrophysics. She was formerly president of the International Astronomical Union (2006-2009) and the director general of the European Southern Observatory (1999-2007). In 2017 she became Chairman of the Board of the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope project.
Born in France, Catherine Cesarsky was largely raised in Argentina and received a degree in Physical Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires. She graduated with a PhD in Astronomy in 1971 from Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass., USA), and for several years worked at the California Institute of Technology.
- In 1974, she moved to France, becoming a staff member of the Service d'Astrophysique (SAp), Direction des Sciences de la Matière (DSM),Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique (CEA). She then established her career in France. From 1985 to 1993, she was the Head of SAp. Later, as Director of DSM (1994 - 1999), she led a team of about 3000 scientists, engineers and technicians active within a broad spectrum of basic research programmes in physics, chemistry, astrophysics and earth sciences. From 1999 to 2007, she was the Director General of the European Southern Observatory; she was thus responsible for the end of construction of the VLT and its instruments and for the operations, for the conclusion of the agreements and the first part of the construction of ALMA, and she launched the studies for the European Extremely Large Telescope (ELT). At present, she is the High Commissioner for Atomic Energy in France, advisor to the French government for science and energy issues. She chairs the Science Program Committee of the French space agency, CNES (Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales), and the Consultative Committee EURATOM - Fusion (CCE-FU).
- From August 2006 to August 2009, she was President of the International Astronomical Union. She is recipient of the 1998 COSPAR (Committee on Space Research) Space Science Award, member or Foreign member of various Academies (French Académie des Sciences, Academia Europaea, International Academy of Astronautics, National Academy of Sciences USA, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of London), and Doctor Honoris Causa from the Geneva University. Catherine Cesarsky is Commandeur de l'Ordre national du Mérite and Commandeur de l'Ordre de la Légion d'honneur.
- Dr. Cesarsky is known for her research activities in several central areas of modern astrophysics. The first part of her career was devoted to the high-energy domain. This has involved studies of the propagation and composition of galactic cosmic rays, of matter and fields in the diffuse interstellar medium, as well as the acceleration of particles in astrophysical shocks, e.g. in connection with supernovae.
- She then turned to infrared astronomy. She was the Principal Investigator of the ISOCAM camera on board the Infrared Space Observatory of the European Space Agency (ESA), which flew between 1995 and 1998. As such, she has led the ISOCAM central programme, which studied, in a coordinated way, the infrared emission from a variety of galactic and extragalactic sources and yielded new and exciting results on star formation and galactic evolution. These were consolidated through further observations with the ESO VLT, the satellites Spitzer and now Herschel.
Awards and distinctions
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