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Obama Names Science Advisers

President-elect puts in place his science team

by Cheryl Hogue and Susan Morrissey
January 5, 2009 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 87, ISSUE 1

Credit: Martha Stewart
Credit: Martha Stewart

PRESIDENT-ELECT Barack Obama has tapped four prominent scientists to serve in key science positions in his Administration. Topping this list is John P. Holdren, a Harvard University professor who is an expert in energy and climate change, who will serve as Obama's science adviser.

Credit: OSU
Credit: OSU
Credit: Len Rubenstein/Broad Institute
Credit: Len Rubenstein/Broad Institute
Credit: OSU
Credit: OSU

Obama also announced that Jane Lubchenco, professor of zoology at Oregon State University, will lead the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, an agency heavily involved in climate-change research. And he selected Harold E. Varmus, president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Eric S. Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute, to cochair along with Holdren the President's Council of Advisors on Science & Technology (PCAST).

The newly named science team shows the incoming president's commitment to science and his continued effort to build an inner circle of senior officials poised to address climate change, observers say. Other members of his science team include energy secretary nominee Steven Chu and energy and climate-change coordinator pick Carol M. Browner (see page 24 and C&EN, Dec. 15, 2008, page 6).

"As he has put together his team and set the direction for his Administration, President-Elect Obama has focused on science as a priority to solving our toughest national and global challenges," says Caroline Trupp Gil, assistant director for advocacy in the ACS Office of Public Affairs. (ACS publishes C&EN.) "There is a lot of excitement at ACS and in the broader scientific community about the direction that he is taking and the team that we will be working with in the new Administration."

At Harvard, Holdren is a professor of environmental policy and directs the program on science, technology, and public policy at the Kennedy School of Government. He is also a professor of environmental science and public policy in the department of earth and planetary sciences.

Holdren, who earned a doctorate in plasma physics at Stanford University, specializes in climate change, energy technology and policy, nuclear arms control, and nonproliferation. He has called for the U.S. to lead the world in addressing climate change.

Holdren comes to the White House with extensive policy experience. He is cochair of the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy. He was a member of PCAST under President Bill Clinton, leading major studies on U.S.-Russia cooperation to protect nuclear materials from theft and on federal research in fusion energy. He also served as the U.S. cochair of a U.S.-Russia bilateral commission on managing plutonium from surplus nuclear weapons.

Lubchenco is being called on to head the nearly $4 billion research agency NOAA. She is an environmental scientist, marine ecologist, and a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Ecological Society of America. She served two terms on the National Science Board, which advises the President and Congress and oversees the National Science Foundation.

Providing scientific advice to Obama will be Varmus and Lander. Varmus won a Nobel Prize in 1989 for the discovery of the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes. He is a former director of the National Institutes of Health and also has served as an adviser to Obama during the presidential campaign. In addition to heading the Broad Institute, Lander is a professor of biology at MIT and a member of the Whitehead Institute. He is a leader in the field of human genome research.

Last month, Obama also finalized two Cabinet picks that will impact the chemical sector. He named former Iowa Gov. Thomas J. Vilsack as the secretary of USDA and Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-Calif.) as secretary of the Department of Labor.



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