Dick French

Louise Sherwood McDowell and Sarah Frances Whiting Professor Emeritus of Astrophysics & Professor Emeritus of Astronomy

Planetary astronomer, fascinated by planetary rings and atmospheres, committed to teaching science, and a devotee of all the liberal arts.

The sublimely beautiful rings and moons of Saturn and the other giant planets provide a fascinating laboratory for investigating the surprising and often baffling behavior of gravity at work. Using observations from spacecraft and Earth-based telescopes, my students and I explore the dynamics and structure of the rings of Saturn and Uranus, the chaotic orbits of their small satellites, and the atmospheres of all of the giant planets. We travel across the globe to observe Pluto's tenuous atmosphere as well, and have embarked on a study of Pluto's bizarre weather and climate.

Wellesley College provides a wonderful opportunity to teach widely to a range of students. I've enjoyed sharing the wonders of the universe to introductory students; showing upper level students how to use an astrophysicist's toolkit to unlock the mysteries of stars, galaxies, and the cosmos itself; and exploring the interconnections between philosophy and science in first-year seminars. I'm committed to providing opportunities for non-science majors to participate in astronomical research, and to giving rigorous training for graduate-school bound astrophysics students.

I've been a team member of NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn since 1990, and if all goes well, the spacecraft will continue to orbit Saturn until its planned fiery death in 2017 when it will crash into the giant ringed planet. I enjoy collaborating with colleagues from around the world, a reminder that we are common inhabitants of spaceship Earth with a deeply shared wonderment about the world we inhabit.

I chose the life of an astronomer over that of an opera singer, but I still love music and the allied arts. I enjoy mountaineering, paddling, bicycling, and photographing my travels around the world. I love to cook, to study languages, and to learn about the obscure origins of words. Someday, I'll spend the entire summer (re)reading Moby Dick, Shakespeare's plays, the philosophy of science, and eventually all of Simenon's mysteries in French.


  • B.A., Cornell University
  • M.S., Cornell University
  • Ph.D., Cornell University