Smithsonian Names Ellen Stofan Under Secretary for Science and Research
Ellen Stofan, director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, has been named the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for Science and Research, effective March 14.
In this role, Stofan will lead the Institution’s collective scientific efforts and commitment to research. The position oversees the Smithsonian’s science museums, science research centers and Smithsonian Libraries and Archives. This includes the National Museum of Natural History, the National Zoo and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the Museum Conservation Institute, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Stofan will report to Meroe Park, Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer.
Stofan has served as the John and Adrienne Mars Director of the National Air and Space Museum since April 2018, the first woman to hold the position. In this role, she led the museum’s research on aviation and spaceflight history and the planetary sciences.
At a significant moment of commemoration for the United States, Stofan oversaw the museum’s landmark celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. Throughout five days of activities and events in July 2019, the museum led a national conversation about the past, present and future of innovation and exploration. The multi-day event showcased Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit, returning to display for the first time in 13 years, and a once-in-a-lifetime recreation of the Apollo 11 launch, which was projected onto the Washington Monument. More than a half-million people joined the festivities on the National Mall.
Under Stofan’s leadership, the museum also began a major seven-year renovation of its building on the National Mall. The revitalization, which began in late 2018, is transforming the building’s exterior and infrastructure, as well as the museum’s exhibitions and presentation spaces.
Stofan’s leadership of the museum has also emphasized the importance of inspiring the next generation of scientists through education, exhibits and programs that reach 21st-century audiences in person and online. Under her direction, the museum launched its popular “S.H.E. Can” summer camp, which seeks to empower middle-schoolers from all backgrounds to succeed in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines.
Before joining the Smithsonian, Stofan was chief scientist at NASA from 2013 to 2016, serving as a principal advisor to NASA’s administrator. She has more than 25 years’ experience in space-related organizations and a deep research background in planetary geology, focusing on the geology of Venus, Mars, Saturn’s moon Titan and Earth. Among her awards and honors, she has received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal. Stofan holds a bachelor’s degree in geology from the College of William & Mary and a master’s degree and doctorate from Brown University, both in geological sciences.
Stofan succeeds Roger Brissenden, who has served as acting Under Secretary for Science and Research since April 2020. Chris Browne, deputy director of the National Air and Space Museum, will serve as the museum’s acting director.
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Linda St. Thomas