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Old Main at the University Park campus during the fall semester.

Eric Ford named Distinguished Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics

17 February 2023
Distinguished Professor and ICDS Co-Hire

Eric Ford, professor of astronomy and astrophysics and co-hire of the Institute for Computational and Data Sciences at Penn State, has been selected to receive the title of Distinguished Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics in recognition of his exceptional record of teaching, research, and service to the University community. The honor is designated by the Office of the President of Penn State based on the recommendations of colleagues and the dean of the Eberly College of Science.

Ford was recognized for his numerous contributions in the field of exoplanets—planets outside our solar system—and is noted for playing a central role in bringing modern data science, high performance computing, and Bayesian methods to the field. Nominators also emphasized Ford’s commitment to teaching and mentoring students in addition to holding leadership positions with many national organizations.

“Congratulations to Eric Ford on this much-deserved recognition,” said Randall McEntaffer, professor and head of astronomy and astrophysics. “He was recognized for his tireless dedication to his mission as a professional astronomer, a mentor, and a department member.  In service to the department, he is often the first to tackle a difficult issue and the first to say ‘yes’ when a tough assignment is necessary for the good of the department.”

Ford’s research explores how planets form and evolve using techniques from both theory and observation, including theoretical modeling of planetary systems, techniques to observe and characterize exoplanets, statistical analyses of exoplanet observations, and improving the design of exoplanet surveys. He has collaborated with several leading exoplanet survey teams, including NASA’s Kepler mission, the Habitable Zone Planet FinderNEID science teams, and the Keck Planet Finder science team. At Penn State, he is the director of the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds and a member of the Center for Astrostatistics, the Astrobiology Research Center, and the Consortium for Planetary and Exoplanetary Sciences and Technology

Ford’s honors and awards include being named a Simons Fellow in Theoretical Physics by the Simons Foundation in 2020, being selected as a finalist for the Blavatnik Award in Physical Sciences & Engineering In 2015, and receiving the Helen B. Warner Prize from the American Astronomical Society in 2012 and the Harold C. Urey Prize from the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Science in 2011. His research has been published in scientific journals such as Science, Nature, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Astronomical Journal, and the Astrophysical Journal.

Prior to joining Penn State in 2013, Ford was a faculty member at the University of Florida from 2007 to 2013, a NASA Hubble Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and a Miller Research Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. He earned bachelor’s degrees in physics and mathematics at MIT in 1999 and a doctoral degree in astrophysical sciences at Princeton in 2003.