National Academies

Science an 'Asset' for Diplomacy, Says New State Department Adviser

Eli is a contributing correspondent for Science magazine.

For its top job linking science and diplomacy, the U.S. State Department has chosen a consummate Washington insider. E. William Colglazier, recently retired National Academies executive officer, was named yesterday to be the State Department's adviser on science and technology. But the 20-year veteran of the nation's leading science body says he's always valued the link between science and foreign relations. His first job at the National Academies, in fact, was leading the international affairs office. "I'm returning to my first love—science and international [relations]," says Colglazier, who received a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1971.

Among items on Colglazier's agenda, he told ScienceInsider, is ensuring that "by the end of my term the whole department feels [my office] is an asset." That's important in a world dominated by technological or scientific issues, he said, in part because many U.S. embassies lack science counselors. The continuing tight U.S. budgets expected in the future will mean that will probably remain the case. Even when relations with the United States are strained, he says, science can bring nations together.

Colglazier said interactions he has had with scientists in Libya, Iran, and other countries have convinced him that research can pave the way for better communication. "They want to interact with American scientists; they want ties with American scientists. They want their students to attend American universities. That goodwill is an asset that American scientists have."

The State Department's previous science adviser was geneticist Nina Fedoroff; she left the post roughly a year ago. The long time between appointments had raised concerns that the Obama Administration might not fill the spot. The research community "is very glad it was filled," says Colglazier; a press release from the National Academies gushes with praise for the 66-year old, whose official term is 2 years with the possibility of a third.

Some biographical information from the academy press release on the appointment:

[Colglazier] became executive officer of NAS and the Research Council in 1994 and was named chief operating officer in 2001. From 1983 to 1991, he was professor of physics and directed the Energy, Environment, and Resources Center at the University of Tennessee. He has studied and worked at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Colglazier's introduction to science policy and Washington came in 1976 when he was selected to be an AAAS Congressional Science Fellow in the office of Congressman George Brown. He received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1971.

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