News and Views

Pandemic response highlights science’s crucial role, former NASA Chief Scientist tells UCC graduates

13 Apr 2022
  • Former Director of the US National Science Foundation in Cork to receive Honorary Doctorate
  • Dr France Córdova, an award-winning astrophysicist, was the youngest person ever and the first woman to serve as NASA's Chief Scientist
  • Eoin O’Driscoll, Chairman, Tyndall National Institute to receive Honorary Doctorate

The first woman to serve as NASA’s chief scientist has said the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the importance science plays in our everyday lives.

Dr France Anne Córdova, who served as Director of the United States’ National Science Foundation under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, made the comment ahead of her visit to Ireland, where she is to receive an Honorary Doctorate from University College Cork.

“I look forward to talking with students and faculty about the importance of scientific discovery to our daily lives, including helping us out of a terrible pandemic with new vaccines and key studies of the nature of the infectious Covid-19 disease and how it is spread. I believe an investment in discovery research is key to realising our greatest potential and key to improving life for all humankind,” Dr Córdova said.

A headshot of a woman in a red blazer

A distinguished life in science

Dr Córdova is a distinguished scientific, engineering, and education leader with over three decades of experience at universities and national labs.

Dr Córdova’s contributions to science in the domains of observational and experimental astrophysics, as well as multi-spectral studies on x-ray and gamma-ray sources and space-borne instruments, are outstanding.

She has served in both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations as the 14th Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), as well as serving on business and non-profit boards.

Dr Córdova has also previously served as a NASA Chief Scientist, becoming the youngest person ever and the first woman to be appointed to the role. She subsequently received the agency's highest honour, the Distinguished Service Medal, while working at NASA.

Dr Córdova is the current President of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, whose mission is to advance scientific discovery through visionary philanthropy.

A proud Irish-American

A proud Irish-American, Dr Córdova is an honorary citizen of Ireland and is a previous recipient of the Kennedy-Lemass medal.

Dr Córdova said:

Ireland’s rich intellectual and cultural history is inspiring.

I have Irish heritage through my mother, whose ancestors came from Counties Clare and Dublin. When I come to Ireland it is like coming home. I appreciate the warm welcome extended by virtue of this honorary doctorate.

University College Cork has produced industrialists, doctors, scientists, prime ministers, novelists, actors and singers – as well as rugby players and footballers. It celebrates a diversity of scholars, an attitude worth cultivating in an age when we want to welcome all people to higher education opportunities. The University also offers a host of academic fields, each with something special to offer to address our current world challenges. I look forward to walking through its gorgeous campus, steeped in history and culture.

“I am very proud to be receiving an honorary doctorate from the University that appointed the first woman in Ireland to be a university professor – and the university where Boolean algebra, so important to computer programming, had its roots. For me there is no greater thrill than learning and discovery. I acquire both with my passion for studying the cosmos.

Dr Cordova will receive her Honorary Doctorate in a ceremony in UCC on Wednesday, April 13 at 10am. This will be followed by a special ‘In Conversation..’ discussion with Eoin O'Driscoll, Chair of Tyndall National Institute at 12.15pm.

A champion of Irish firms and of Ireland’s enterprise and science policy

Mr Eoin O’Driscoll is to receive an Honorary Doctorate at a Conferring Ceremony on Thursday at 10am.

After over 25 years working in with major ICT multinationals in Ireland and the US where he held senior positions at Nortel, Wang Laboratories, Stratus and Lucent Technologies, Mr O’Driscoll’s focus over the past decade has been on growing Irish firms and developing Ireland’s enterprise and science policy.

A graduate of UCC with a Bachelors and a Masters Degree in Engineering, Mr O’Driscoll is a fellow of Engineers Ireland and a fellow and former president of the Irish Academy of Engineers.

Throughout his career, Mr O’Driscoll made a significant contribution to research, innovation and science policy for Ireland. He was selected to chair the Enterprise Strategy Review Group who developed a strategic plan for enterprise in Ireland and published ‘Ahead of the Curve – Ireland’s place in the global economy’. Mr O’Driscoll was Chair of Forfas, Ireland’s national policy and advisory board for enterprise, trade, science, technology and innovation, and he also participated in the Technology Foresight exercise that led to formation of Science Foundation Ireland where he served on the inaugural Board.

As Chair of the Board of Tyndall National Institute since 2014, Mr O’Driscoll has made a significant contribution. Tyndall is a unique organisation in the Irish research and innovation ecosystem and is a flagship research Institute at UCC, with an annual research income of over €40m and a community of over 600 staff and postgrad students. Under Mr O’Driscoll’s leadership, the Institute has seen significant growth in both reputation and scale which has culminated with Tyndall securing government funding for a major expansion, including a new 17,000m2 research facility planned for UCC’s North Mall campus.

Professor Sarah Culloty, Head of the College, Science, Engineering and Food Science at UCC, said both Dr Córdova and Mr O’Driscoll were worthy recipients of Honorary Doctorates in Science.

“Through advancing our knowledge of the universe, or driving innovation here on Earth, both France and Eoin are testament to the pivotal role science plays in our developing humanity. I can not think of two people more deserving of recognition for their service to science and society,” she said.

UCC President Professor John O’Halloran said:

“This week sees our university bestow its highest honour on two very deserving recipients. On behalf of University College Cork I want to warmly welcome Dr Córdova to Ireland, her ancestral home, and to congratulate her on a lifetime of discovery. I want to thank Eoin O’Driscoll for his service to Tyndall National Institute and commend him on his record in innovation.”

1,946 students will graduate at Conferring Ceremonies at UCC in April.

University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF