Debra Fischer to lead NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences

Yale’s Fischer will lead the National Science Foundation’s mission to set national astrophysics science priorities and guide and support ongoing research.
Debra Fischer

Debra Fischer (Photo by Dan Renzetti)

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has named Debra Fischer, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Astronomy in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, director of its Division of Astronomical Sciences.

As director, Fischer will lead NSF’s mission to set national astrophysics science priorities, guide and support a broad range of ongoing research, and develop new instrumentation.

Fischer said that in addition to helping prioritize research, she wants to advance diversity and inclusivity in science. And she will promote efforts to combat climate change.

If we don’t start now, by changing the ways we do science, it will be too late,” said Fischer, a co-founder of the international group Astronomers for Planet Earth. “The change has to start with us. We can prepare energy budgets for our facilities and the projects we do.”

The directorship begins Oct. 12 and will continue for a minimum of three years. Fischer will relocate to Washington, D.C. for the new job, but will continue to oversee her Yale research. She is the first Yale faculty member to be selected for the role.

This is an extremely important position, particularly at this point when two new NSF-funded observatories — the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope and the Vera Rubin Observatory — are soon to come online, potentially changing the landscape of astronomy,” said Sarbani Basu, the William K. Lanman Jr. Professor and chair of the Department of Astronomy at Yale. “I am proud that a faculty member from this department will occupy this position and lead U.S. ground-based astronomy at this time.”

Fischer is a pioneer in the discovery of exoplanets — planets orbiting other stars. Her work has led to the detection of hundreds of extrasolar planets and the identification of key correlations between the chemical composition of stars and planet formations. She has published 292 peer-reviewed articles in astronomy or instrumentation journals, six book chapters, and an online textbook, “Origins and the Search for Life in the Universe.”

Fischer joined the Yale faculty in 2009. She holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences. She also is the former dean of academic affairs in the Dean’s Office of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

“Debra Fischer is a leader in every dimension,” said FAS Dean Tamar Szabó Gendler. “Her research has transformed our understanding of the universe through her discovery of countless exoplanets; her teaching has transformed the lives of generations of Yale students through her legendary courses; and her service has transformed the Faculty of Arts and Sciences through her brilliant work as FAS Dean of Academic Affairs.

“I am thrilled that she will be leading the NSF’s Division of Astronomical Science, sharing the wisdom she brought to Yale and the FAS with the nation and the world.”

Among her many honors, Fischer is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering.

Debra’s excellence as a researcher, teacher, and leader in her field makes her a perfect fit for this new, national role in shaping astrophysics priorities for institutions across the country,” said Jeffrey Brock, dean of science in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science, and the Zhao and Ji Professor of Mathematics. “At such a pivotal time for science, we are proud and excited to see her taking on such a prominent leadership role.”

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