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Research Funding

Physical chemist Geraldine Richmond tapped to head US DOE science programs

Biogeochemist Asmeret Asefaw Berhe nominated to lead DOE Office of Science

by Cheryl Hogue
April 30, 2021

Photo shows Geradline Richmond seated.
Credit: Todd Cooper/Eugene Weekly
Geraldine Richmond

Award-winning chemist Geraldine Richmond is President Joe Biden’s choice to captain the US Department of Energy’s science programs. Biden is also nominating biogeochemist Asmeret Asefaw Berhe to direct the agency’s Office of Science.

Photo shows a head shot of Asmeret Asefaw Berhe
Credit: Teamrat A. Ghezzehei
Asmeret Asefaw Berhe

Richmond holds the Presidential Chair in Science and is a chemistry professor at the University of Oregon. Former president Barack Obama bestowed her with the National Medal of Science in 2016. She won the Priestley Medal—the highest honor of the American Chemical Society—in 2018 for her ground-breaking work elucidating the molecular properties of liquid surfaces. (ACS publishes C&EN.) She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and serves on the National Science Board, the governing board of the National Science Foundation.

If confirmed by the Senate, Richmond will become the DOE undersecretary for science, which conducts research and funds academic investigators. She would oversee programs including fundamental research in basic energy sciences, biological and environmental sciences, and computational science as well as the funding of work in materials and chemical sciences, with a budget of more than $8 billion a year.

“Richmond’s research focuses on understanding the molecular characteristics of water surfaces, studies that have relevance to environmental issues such as oil remediation, atmospheric chemistry and alternative energy sources.” the White House says in an April 28 statement announcing her nomination.

“Dr. Richmond brings the leadership, integrity, and intellectual prowess to be the next undersecretary for science in the Department of Energy,” says Victor McCrary, vice chair of the National Science Board and vice president for research and graduate programs at the University of the District of Columbia. “Her efforts towards increasing funding support for graduate students and the importance of the skilled technical workforce as well as her firm advocacy for more inclusivity of women and underrepresented groups in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] are exceptional,” McCrary tells C&EN.

As director of the Office of Science, Berhe would report to Richmond. The office has a budget of about $5 billion, and its priorities include energy efficiency, diverse and reliable energy sources, improved health and environmental quality, and fundamental understanding of matter and energy. Berhe would also serve as DOE Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm’s principal science advisor on research policy.

Berhe is a professor of soil biogeochemistry and holds the Falasco Chair in Earth Sciences at the University of California, Merced, where she studies the effects of erosion, fire, and climate change on soil organic matter. She received the American Geophysical Union’s Joanne Simpson Medal for Mid-Career Scientists in 2020.

“Dr Berhe is an phenomenal pick,” says Gretchen Goldman, research director in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy. “As a top-notch scientist and leader on inclusion in science, I am confident she’ll effectively lead the Office of Science.”

The Senate has not yet scheduled a confirmation hearing for either nominee.


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