For United Kingdom astronomers, joining the European Southern Observatory would mean coming under the jurisdiction of ESO director general Catherine Cesarsky. She was appointed in September last year for five years, and is based at the ESO headquarters in Garching, Germany.
Dr Cesarsky was educated in South America and the United States and has spent time at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge and the Weisman Institute in Israel. She has been vice-president of the International Astronomical Union since 1997 and she has also been editor-in-chief of the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics .
After receiving a degree in physical sciences from the University of Buenos Aires and a PhD in astronomy from Harvard, she started her career at the California Institute of Technology. Her early work mainly focused on the high-energy domain, including studies of the acceleration of particles in astrophysical shocks, such as those connected with supernovae.
Later, she studied infrared astronomy, becoming principal investigator of the Isocam camera on the European Space Agency's Infrared Space Observatory and leader of the Isocam central programme.
In 1974, she joined the staff of the Service d'Astrophysique, becoming head of its theoretical group from 1978 until 1985.
From 1994, she was director of the Direction des Sciences de la Mati re, part of the Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique, which oversees basic research in physics, chemistry, astrophysics and earth sciences.
She actively promotes the involvement of women in science. In a recent interview with Le Monde , she said being a woman in a mostly male environment had made it difficult to remain anonymous. "I really think that, so far as my career goes, the advantages and disadvantages of my gender have exactly balanced one another," she said.