Biden nominates first woman to be top, Senate-confirmed science advisor, replacing Eric Lander
More than four months after Eric Lander, the famous founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, resigned from his top White House spot after bullying staff, President Joe Biden has nominated Arati Prabhakar to serve as the next director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which is a Senate-confirmed position.
Prabhakar is the first woman, immigrant, or person of color nominated to serve as the director of OSTP, and if confirmed, she would also take the role of Assistant to the President for Science and Technology.
Prabhakar can immediately take up the science advisor post, according to Science, which first reported Prabhakar’s new appointment last week. In between Lander’s departure and yesterday’s nomination, Biden had to scramble to find scientific leadership, bringing former NIH director Francis Collins back from retirement to help. Biden still has yet to nominate Collins’ Senate-confirmed replacement.
“Dr. Prabhakar is a brilliant and highly-respected engineer and applied physicist and will lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy to leverage science, technology, and innovation to expand our possibilities, solve our toughest challenges, and make the impossible possible,” President Biden said in a statement. “I share Dr. Prabhakar’s belief that America has the most powerful innovation machine the world has ever seen. As the Senate considers her nomination, I am grateful that Dr. Alondra Nelson will continue to lead OSTP and Dr. Francis Collins will continue to serve as my acting Science Advisor.”
Prabhakar is a safe selection for Biden as she was unanimously confirmed by the Senate to lead the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which she led from 1993 to 1997. She also led DARPA more recently, from 2012 to 2017.
At DARPA, according to the White House, she established a new office to spur novel biotechnologies and jump-started the development of a rapid-response mRNA vaccine platform, making possible the incredibly fast rollout of Covid-19 vaccines. And that work may translate into helping out with the creation of ARPA-H, which is just beginning to stand up under the NIH.
Born in India and raised in Texas, Prabhakar earned her PhD in applied physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1984 (where she was the first woman to earn a PhD in applied physics).
“She is the right person at the right time to support the U.S. innovation ecosystem, improve translational science, attract and retain diverse talent pools, and ensure that investments in research and development solve the real challenges facing the American people,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), chair of the committee that oversees science policy, said in a statement on the nomination.