May 18, 2010

Science, tech valued in White House

President Barack Obama’s science and technology advisor, Dr. John Holdren, told students about the role science plays in White House debates Friday in Kent Hall.

Holdren, who also serves as the director of the White House Office and Technology Policy, stressed the mutual dependence of the different departments within the Obama administration, dismissing the notion that any challenge could be considered in isolation.

“President Obama sees [global] problems as interdisciplinary and interconnected. We can’t tackle, much less solve, these problems without calling upon other disciplines,” Holdren said, adding, “science and technology are central to solving many of the problems we currently face.”

Holdren trained in aeronautics, astronautics, and plasma physics and graduated with a bachelor’s from MIT and a Ph.D. from Stanford. He continued teaching at Harvard, and later, the University of California, Berkeley. He has also served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and as one of President Bill Clinton’s science advisors.

Jay Foley, a third-year graduate student in chemistry who organized the event as a part of the James Franck Institute’s (JFI) new Student-Invited Seminar series, said Holdren’s lecture on public policy, the first in the series, sets a precedent for future seminars.

“Most of the JFI talks are very academic, so we wanted to distinguish this lecture by bringing in someone who could talk to us about science in actual policy,” Foley said. “A lot of us are really in the dark about the whole process that science gets turned into policy. How do you bridge your academic work with actual policy? Dr. Holdren was able to [answer this] successfully.”

Foley expects the JFI to continue to host more speakers. A seminar is tentatively scheduled for the upcoming autumn quarter featuring professor Paul Weiss, a nanoscientist from the University of California, Los Angeles, specializing in the structure of atomic surfaces.

Foley hoped that inviting Professor Weiss would interest both physics and chemistry students. “We set the bar really high this time, so we’re hoping to generate more interest and have bigger turnouts at our future lectures,” he said.