Isabel Hawkins

Co-Principal Investigator | Exploratorium
“The beauty of the night sky and a planetarium visit charted the course of my career.”

Born in Córdoba, Argentina, surrounded by big familias of Italian and Spanish heritage, Isabel’s childhood memories are of long tables full of food, laughter, and beloved cousins to play with. Summers spent “en el campo,” on a ranch in a tiny town with no running water or electricity, offered unfettered skies full of stars. Because of the heat, Isabel and the other children would pull the mattresses off their beds to sleep outside, and on moonless nights they could see the Milky Way and the Magellanic Clouds as well as “falling stars.”

On Isabel’s tenth birthday, her father took her to the Planetarium in Buenos Aires, and she’s never looked back. (Research shows that early experiences in museums, zoos, aquaria, and planetariums are key indicators of a person’s life-long relationship with informal education institutions.) Since there were no professional telescopes in Argentina at the time, Isabel applied to be an American Field Service high school exchange student, coming to California in 1976. However, a love other than astronomy rooted her in the U.S.—her husband of 45 years. Lots of schooling and the birth of their two daughters kept them both busy for many years. Isabel has a B.S. in Physics from UC Riverside, an M.S. and Ph.D. in astrophysics from UCLA, followed by a hybrid career—twenty years at UC Berkeley Space Science Laboratory and ten years as Astronomer and Project Director at the Exploratorium.

Today, Isabel loves working on NASA, NSF, and museum-funded efforts focused on Latinx audience engagement (e.g.Total Solar Eclipse and GENIALGenerating Engagement and New Initiatives for All Latinos). Besides contributing her passion to Cambio, Isabel is also a Consultant for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, a volunteer coordinator for the Yakanal Indigenous Youth Cultural Exchange Program, and a 2018-2022 Fulbright US Global Scholar. A late bloomer to Latin dance, Isabel credits great teachers and supportive dance partners for her achievements as a seven-time, Latin dance world champion in salsa and bachata in the “over-50” amateur, professional-amateur, and professional categories at the World Latin Dance Cup international competition.