Meet the Obama technology team

The twenty people named to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) bring together hundreds of years of research, four MacArthur grants, the most interesting guy at Microsoft, the most interesting grownup at Google, experts on geriatric medicine and evolutionary biology and the Stock Exchange and climate change, and three Nobel laureates. And some astronomers, because those guys have all the fun.

PCAST, founded in 1990, exists to advise the President and Vice President in matters of science, technology, and innovation. President Obama announced the lineup this week at the National Academy of Sciences. Brief biographies of all twenty are available on PCAST's site, but a few groupings are worth noting here:

Across the board: Among the disciplines pursued by our panel: medicine, astrophysics, energy, biology, economy, nanotech, chemistry, computer science, aerospace, transportation, genetics, geology, and biochemistry, materials science, mathematics, bioinformatics, and bioethics. Most represented: environmental studies, physics and engineering. be advised, though, that most of the panel members have undertaken significant research in multiple disciplines -- in other words, expect anything of anyone at any time.


Read all about it: Our panelists have published, of course, and copiously. It's not all academic papers, either. Christine Cassel's A Practical Guide to Aging (1997) was favorably reviewed by The New York Times as "a forthright advice book." William Press is the author of the ongoing Numerical Recipes series of books on computer programming.

Not just Ivy: Harvard and MIT are the schools most closely associated with our panel, but Caltech, Berkeley and Boston College (among many others) contributed their part.

Not their first time at the rodeo: Several appointees have served in other administrations. Rosina Bierbaum was Associate Director for Environment for the Office of Science and Technology Policy for President Clinton, and acting director of the agency in 2000-2001. Christopher Chyba was a member of the White House staff from 1993 to 1995, at the National Security Council and the Office and Science and Technology Policy. Mario Molina served on PCAST specifically during both Clinton terms. Ernest J. Moniz joined the Clinton administration in 1995 as Associate Director for Science in the White House Office Of Science and technology Policy and two years later became the Undersecretary of the Department of Energy, serving through the end of that administration. Maxine Savitz also served at the Department of Energy as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Conservation under two administrations -- Carter and Reagan.

Secure in their knowledge: Not one but two of our panelists double-major (so to speak) in astrophysics and security. William Press is a professor of computer science at the University of Texas at Austin; he's also served as deputy labs director for science and technology at Los Alamos and taught astronomy and physics at Harvard. Christopher Chyba teaches astrophysical sciences and international affairs at Princeton; his scientific research focuses on solar-system exploration, while his security work looks at nuclear and biological weapons. He's a member of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the National Academy of Sciences.

First!: Among our panel's achievements: S. James Gates wrote the first doctoral thesis at MIT to tangle with supersymmetry. Mario Molina is the first Nobel laureate born in Mexico -- and he won the award for co-leading the first research team to figure out the link between chlorofluorocarbons and ozone depletion. Barbara Schaal is the first female vice president of the National Academy of Sciences. Ahmed Zewail is the first Linus Pauling Chair in Chemical Physics at Caltech and is considered by some the father of femtochemistry.

Shirley Ann Jackson's CV is mighty enough to merit its own paragraph. She was the first African American woman to earn an MIT doctorate (elementary particle physics), one of the first two African American women to earn a physics doctorate in the US, the first African American and the first woman to become commissioner of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the first African American woman to lead a national research university (she's president of Rensselaer Polytechnic), the first African American woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and the first to receive the Vannevar Bush award, given by the National Science Board for "a lifetime of achievements in scientific research, education, and senior statesman-like contributions to public policy."

A Nobel cause: Know your laureates! Ahmed Zewail (chemistry, 1999) teaches at Caltech and has lent his help to peace efforts in the Middle East. Mario Molina (chemistry, 1995) teaches at UCSD and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and directs the Mario Molina Center for Energy and Environment in Mexico City. And Harold Varmus (medicine or physiology, 1989) is CEO and president of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, not to mention co-chair (with John Holdren) of PCAST itself.

No Cupertino: On the tech-industry front, Craig Mundie steps in from Microsoft Research while Eric Schmidt represents for Google. One feels as if there's someone missing... some other company that talks a lot about innovation... hmm, it'll come to me. (Be it noted, by the way, that Mssrs. Mundie and Schmidt each have biographies of just three lines on the PCAST site -- a nice touch of humility for two tech guys stepping onto a bigger stage.)

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