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John H. Marburger III

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July 2, 2001
Volume 79, Number 27
CENEAR 79 27 p.4
ISSN 0009-2347
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President calls on Brookhaven Lab director to be his science adviser


President George W. Bush announced last week that he plans to nominate physicist John H. Marburger III to be director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) and his chief science adviser. The announcement brought a near-audible sigh of relief from scientists across the country, many of whom feared that the Administration's delay in naming a science adviser meant the President did not value their input on a range of science and technology issues.

ONWARD AND UPWARD Marburger is leaving the scientific tunnels of Brookhaven for the executive corridors of Washington. BNL PHOTO
But the choice of Marburger, who is director of Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) has apparently put those fears to rest. Marburger, 60, is widely praised--even by those who have butted heads with him--for his research accomplishments and management and people skills.

For now, Marburger is declining press interviews, pending Senate confirmation of his nomination, which is not expected before September. But interviews with colleagues and others who have dealt with him reveal a plainspoken man who inspires confidence in his leadership ability.

Marburger received a Ph.D. in applied physics from Stanford University in 1967. He next moved to the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, where he was a professor of physics and electrical engineering. He also served as chair of the USC Department of Physics and as dean of the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences until 1980, when he became president of the State University of New York, Stony Brook. He has been on leave from the university since 1997, when he became BNL director.

"The President hit a home run with his nomination of Dr. Marburger," says Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Science Committee. "The President's science adviser is a unique position that plays a fundamental role in shaping a wide range of policy, and Dr. Marburger possesses a unique set of qualities that will ensure his success in this position."

Marburger "has had an extraordinary career," former OSTP director Neal F. Lane says. Even though Marburger is a physicist, Lane says, Marburger's experience as a research scientist and professor, a university president, and a national lab director will enable him to advise Bush about a range of issues such as the need for balanced funding of federal R&D initiatives, including greater support for the physical sciences, stem cell research, ballistic missile defense, and global climate change.

Burton Richter, a physics Nobel Laureate and former director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, agrees that the Bush Administration has been "too casual" about the science and technology budget. "There have been cuts in all the areas the President has said are important," he points out.

With Marburger on board, Richter continues, "I would expect to see the Administration turn a lot around and come up with a more coherent plan for science and technology."

In New York, Marburger "will be missed by those who have been most critical of the lab," says David A. Sprintzen, a cofounder of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, a grassroots citizens group that has frequently sparred with BNL management over the lab's environmental record and accountability. "He has done a superb job of addressing community concerns and not just papering them over," Sprintzen says.

"Brookhaven was in serious trouble when Marburger took over," says Charles V. Shank, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He believes Marburger's success and experience there and as president of the State University of New York will help him to communicate effectively with representatives from industry, government, and academe as OSTP director.

"It's a loss for Brookhaven," Shank says of Marburger's departure from BNL, "but it's a gain for the country."

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