Alcock is the director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, which joins with the Harvard College Observatory to form the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He joined the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in August 2004. He oversees a staff of approximately 540 Smithsonian employees, as well as visitors, fellows and students, and 130 Harvard faculty, employees, visiting scientists and graduate students—and an annual federal budget of $111 million. The center is located in Cambridge, Mass.
Before his appointment as director of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Alcock was the Reese W. Flower Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania. His primary research interests are massive compact halo objects, comets and asteroids.
Alcock is the principal investigator for the Taiwan-America Occultation Survey, a project aimed at taking a census of the solar system’s population of Kuiper Belt objects (objects located beyond the orbit of Neptune).
In 2001, Alcock was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a scientist. He received the 2000 Beatrice M. Tinsley Prize from the American Astronomical Society and the 1996 E.O. Lawrence Award in physics. Both awards recognized his pioneering work as principal investigator on the major U.S. project to search for massive compact halo objects and estimate their contribution to the dark matter component of the Milky Way’s halo.
Alcock received his doctorate in astronomy and physics in 1977 from the California Institute of Technology. He began his career as long-term member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. (1977–1981). He was associate professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1981–1986) before joining Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (1986–2000), where he directed the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics.