Walter G. Copan, a chemist with extensive experience in industry and government, has been nominated to head the U.S. National Institute of Standards & Technology.
Copan says he is honored to be President Donald J. Trump’s pick for the federal laboratory’s next director. “NIST is so central to the U.S. innovation system and to U.S. commerce. It is an organization that I have respected for many years,” he tells C&EN.
Now Copan awaits confirmation to the job by the U.S. Senate.
Most of NIST’s previous directors have come from inside the organization, so Copan’s expertise in industry—especially in technology transfer—will set him apart from previous directors.
Copan began his scientific career in 1975 at Lubrizol immediately after getting an undergraduate degree in chemistry and music from Case Western Reserve University, where he later earned his Ph.D. in physical chemistry.
Initially, Copan worked in Lubrizol’s physical and analytical chemistry lab. He rose through the ranks during his 28 years at the company. He led the company’s European R&D expansion during the late 1980s and early 1990s, including working with countries that had recently broken off from the Soviet Union. When he returned to the U.S., Copan was involved in molding the company’s venture capital arm as well as incubating and spinning off new businesses.
That experience led him to his next career: heading technology transfer at the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and, later, Brookhaven National Laboratory. He has also worked at several start-ups and small businesses.
Copan worked with NIST during his technology transfer work at DOE, and he is a former advisory board member of the Federal Laboratory Consortium, an interagency technology transfer group.
“Everybody loves NIST because it supports all sectors of our economy,” he says. “It does so much in terms of advancing technology transfer for our nation.”
Copan’s goals for NIST are to improve cybersecurity for small and midsize businesses and maintain the integrity of the institute’s core programs. Copan also plans to apply his expertise in technology transfer and manufacturing to NIST’s work in those areas.
“I believe that it is important for science and technology-data-driven decisions to be well represented in our national lab system and in our administration as well,” he says.