US President Joe Biden has nominated Arati Prabhakar, an applied physicist, to be his science adviser and head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The appointment comes four months after the controversial departure of Biden’s previous science adviser, geneticist Eric Lander.
The position of science adviser does not require Senate confirmation but the role as head of the OSTP needs and could take months.
Born in New Delhi and raised in Lubbock, Texas, Prabhakar attained a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Texas Tech University in 1979. She secured a Master of Science in electrical engineering in 1980 and a PhD in applied physics in 1984, both from the California Institute of Technology, becoming the first woman to achieve a PhD in applied Physics from Caltech. After a decade later, she also became the first woman to lead NIST, an agency steeped in engineering and physics that focuses on the development of scientific standards and tools.
In 2018, Prabhakar launched her own organization, Actuate, a non-profit think tank based in Palo Alto, California, that seeks to design scientific and policy solutions to global problems such as climate change. Prabhakar burnished her reputation in Washington DC under two presidents: first as head of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) from 1993 to 1997 under Bill Clinton, and then as director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) 15 years later, under Barack Obama. In the intervening years, she moved from industry and a privately funded research laboratory to a venture capital firm, US Venture Partners in Menlo Park, California, where she helped to drive investments in early-stage technologies involving energy, electronics and semiconductors. Under Biden, she will be the first woman and first person of colour to serve as a presidential science adviser.