Dean of Academic Affairs, and Louise McDowell & Sarah Frances Whiting Professor of Astrophysics
In his role as dean, Richard French works directly with departments in the natural and physical sciences and the empirical social sciences, and oversees the college’s efforts to clarify the educational goals of its academic programs and to assess student learning. Before assuming his position as dean, he served as chair of the Astronomy Department and director of the Whitin Observatory.
Professor French is a graduate of Cornell University, where he majored in physics. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in astronomy, also from Cornell. After his time at MIT as a principal research scientist, he joined the Wellesley College faculty in 1980. He has been the recipient of numerous grants from NASA and the National Science Foundation to support his research in planetary astronomy, and received several NASA Group Achievement Awards for his work on spacecraft exploration of the solar system.
Professor French has published more than 85 peer-reviewed scholarly articles on his studies of planetary atmospheres and rings. Since 1990, he has been a science team member of NASA’s highly successful Cassini Mission to Saturn, scheduled to continue its reconnaissance of the Saturn system until 2017. He headed a 10-year study of Saturn with the Hubble Space Telescope, and has traveled to telescopes around the world with his students to observe all of the planets in the outer solar system. Professor French has taught a wide range of courses, from first year seminars in cosmology and the philosophy of science to advanced courses in astrophysics, general relativity, and modern rocket science. In 2004, he was awarded the College’s Pinanski Prize for Excellence in Teaching.