President-elect Joe Biden has appointed Frances Arnold, Caltech's Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry and director of the Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center, to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).
Arnold, winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the recipient of numerous other honors including the 2011 National Medal of Technology and Innovation and the 2016 Millennium Technology Prize, is a respected pioneer in the fields of protein and chemical engineering. She will serve as co-chair of PCAST, which advises the president on matters involving science, technology, education, and innovation policy. The council also provides the president with scientific and technical information that is needed to inform public policy relating to the American economy, the American worker, national and homeland security, and other topics.
Other members of PCAST include co-chair Eric Lander, president and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, who has been named as the next director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and co-chair Maria Zuber, the E. A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics and vice president for research at MIT. Arnold and her fellow chairs will gather with President-elect Biden in Delaware for the announcement on January 16.
"Science will always be at the forefront of my administration—and these world-renowned scientists will ensure everything we do is grounded in science, facts, and the truth. Their trusted guidance will be essential as we come together to end this pandemic, bring our economy back, and pursue new breakthroughs to improve the quality of life of all Americans. Their insights will help America chart a brighter future, and I am grateful they answered the call to serve."
"I want to work to preserve our fragile planet, build our economy and workforce for the future, and pass a better world to all Americans," says Arnold. "I feel I can do this by supporting science and science-based decision-making in the Biden administration. I have great hope that we can put science back to work for the benefit of all."
In the early 1990s, Arnold pioneered "directed evolution" for engineering new and better enzyme catalysts. Directed evolution is a method for optimizing genetic material in the laboratory using the principles of artificial selection. Today, her method of enzyme optimization is used in hundreds of laboratories and companies that make everything from laundry detergents to biofuels to medicines. Arnold and her colleagues have used directed evolution to engineer enzymes in bacteria to make chemicals not found in nature, including molecules containing silicon-carbon or boron-carbon bonds, or bicyclobutanes, which contain energy-packed carbon rings. By using bacteria, researchers can potentially make these chemical compounds in "greener" ways that are more economical and produce less toxic waste.
"The announcement by President Biden of the distinguished co-chairs of PCAST once again elevates the role of science and technology in helping advance our nation's well-being, from sustainable solutions to medical breakthroughs," says Caltech president Thomas F. Rosenbaum, the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and professor of physics. "Frances Arnold is the epitome of the brilliant scientist who has translated her discoveries into interventions that improve people's lives."
Arnold received her undergraduate degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University in 1979 and her graduate degree in chemical engineering from UC Berkeley in 1985. She arrived at Caltech as a visiting associate in 1986 and was named assistant professor in 1987, associate professor in 1992, and professor in 1996. In 2000, she was named the Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry; she became the Linus Pauling Professor in 2017. She became the director of the Rosen Center at Caltech in 2013.
She was the first woman to receive the 2011 Charles Stark Draper Prize from the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and is among the small number of individuals, and the first woman, elected to all three branches of the National Academies: the NAE (2000), the National Academy of Medicine (2004; it was then called the Institute of Medicine), and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS; 2008). She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014. Arnold has won numerous other awards, including the 2016 Millennium Technology Prize and the 2019 Bower Award for the Advancement of Science.
She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, and is a fellow of the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering. In 2019, she was named to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a scientific academy under the auspices of the pope and based in Vatican City.
Remarks of Frances Arnold
Introduction as Co-Chair of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology
Madam Vice President-elect—
I am humbled and honored by this chance to serve
the American people at this moment of profound grief—
and unprecedented opportunity.
As an engineer by training,
there is a certain temptation to see the work ahead of us
as a series of difficult problems to be solved.
But the truth is, that is not what drew me to this role.
Like the rest of this extraordinary team,
I am here today because of love—
A love of science, yes, but also a deeper love—
of our planet, and of our people—
without whom science has no purpose or meaning.
I embarked on my own labor of love in the 1970s—
beginning my career in solar energy
at a time when our nation was in the grip of an energy crisis.
In the years since, my belief has only grown—
that our highest responsibility, in each generation,
is to preserve our fragile planet;
prepare our economy and our workforce for the future;
and pass on a better world.
Science-based decision-making has always been
our most powerful tool for meeting that responsibility—
perhaps never more so than today.
As a pandemic rages,
taking so much, and threatening all that we love,
we look to science and technology for answers—
technology to stay connected to one another;
science to find vaccines, and light the path out of the darkness.
As climate change looms,
we look to science and technology once more—
to save the precious jewel of our planet,
so that we might pass it to future generations intact and in good health, as it was passed to us.
In a time of economic crisis,
we look to science to develop the industries of the future—
the ones that will breathe new life into our livelihoods,
and provide the good jobs that lift up families and communities,
and bring dignity and security to all our people.
And in a moment of torrential divisions,
science offers us a common shelter of facts and truth—
within which we can begin to come together
and, in time, begin to heal.
Science, once again, is not the cold solving of problems.
It is a warm and beautiful exploration of the unknown—
an expression of human curiosity that propels us forward—
and allows us to fulfill our most important responsibilities.
The moment we fail to nurture it,
we resign ourselves to living in the past—
and lose the chance to guide the future.
The agenda put forward
by the President-elect and Vice President-elect
resonates with me — not only as a scientist,
but as a grandmother.
When we put science back to work for the benefit of all people—
revitalizing our economy, fueling our climate response,
broadening our perspective as we rebuild
around greater equity and opportunity—
We are making a society worth passing on
to our children and our grandchildren.
It is an act of love—
and I am honored to help nurture this effort.