California Institute of Technology: Arnold Named Co-Chair of President-elect Biden’s Science and Technology Advisory Council

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.

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