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President Biden appoints Saul Perlmutter, Inez Fung to science advisory council

By Robert Sanders

Inez Fung and Saul Perlmutter
Inez Fung and Saul Perlmutter were appointed to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. (UC Berkeley photos)
Inez Fung and Saul Perlmutter

Inez Fung and Saul Perlmutter were appointed to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. (UC Berkeley photos)

Astrophysicist Saul Perlmutter and climate scientist Inez Fung were tapped to join the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), the White House announced today.

The appointments fulfill a promise President-elect Joe Biden made in January to put “science and truth” at the center of policy-making in areas ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change. He elevated the position of presidential science adviser to Cabinet level in appointing Eric Lander, a well-known Harvard University biologist, as head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

As the director of the OSTP, Lander co-chairs PCAST, though the group is directed by two scientists also appointed by Biden: UC Berkeley alumna and 2018 Nobel laureate Frances Arnold, a California Institute of Technology chemical engineer, and geophysicist Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Perlmutter, who shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of dark energy and the accelerating expansion of the universe and is a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Fung, professor of earth and planetary science and of environmental science, policy and management and a faculty scientist at Berkeley Lab, were among 30 new appointees announced today.

“… Because of their extraordinary intellect, their wide range of experiences and unprecedented diversity, this PCAST will see new possibilities to create good jobs and to power American workers, and grow the economy for everyone. To change the course of human health and disease, to tackle the climate crisis with American innovation, and to lead the world in technologies and industries of the future to protect our security,” Biden said Wednesday.

“It’s certainly an honor to serve on PCAST,” said Perlmutter, who holds the Franklin W. and Karen Weber Dabby Chair in the Department of Physics at Berkeley. “Science has so much to offer our society, with both solutions and guidance, so it is more important than ever that we make it possible for everyone to share an understanding of its approaches and capabilities. I hope my experience with curiosity-driven and practical research and education can help with both the advising and the understanding of this advice.”

“To have the opportunity to serve on PCAST is an immense honor, one I could not have imagined decades ago when I came to the United States from Hong Kong for college,” Fung said. “I am a proud product of the U.S. education and research environment, and I hope my work on the carbon and climate problem, as well as my personal experience as a foreign student and immigrant, can contribute to President Biden’s agenda on climate change as well as to broadening participation in STEM education across the country.”

The PCAST’s roots are in the early 1930s, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt convened a group of scientists for advice on matters of governing, prosperity and security. Each subsequent president established a similar council of scientific advisers until PCAST was formalized in 1990 under the administration of President George H.W. Bush. Another Berkeley faculty member, chemistry professor Birgitta Whaley, was appointed to PCAST by President Donald Trump in 2019, but her tenure ended when Biden was inaugurated.

Perlmutter, who uses supernovas as a means to measure the expansion of the universe, leads the Berkeley Institute for Data Science, the Supernova Cosmology Project and the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics. His interest in scientific-style critical thinking led to the development of two interdisciplinary courses at Berkeley — Sense and Sensibility and Science, and Physics and Music — that he has been teaching to undergraduates for more than a decade. In addition to other awards and honorary doctorates, he is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Fung models the processes that maintain and alter the composition of the atmosphere and, as a consequence, affect the climate, focusing, in particular, on the biogeochemical cycling of carbon dioxide, methane and dust. She is a contributor to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), which shared in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Fung is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Taiwan’s Academia Sinica and the UK’s Royal Society, among other honors and awards.

Announcement from the White House