U.S President Joe Biden. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

A closer look at Biden’s science team

United States President Joe Biden unveiled his remaining nominations for his science team in a press conference last month, finalizing the list that awaits Senate approval. The diverse lineup is filled with accomplished and reputable scientists and politicians, representing the Biden administration’s devotion to science—something that the previous administration was criticized for neglecting. Here’s a closer look at some of the leaders manning science-driven positions in his administration.


The highest-profile science role in Biden’s administration is that of the presidential science adviser, or the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Biden has nominated geneticist Eric Lander for this position. Lander is an accomplished geneticist, holding teaching positions at both MIT and Harvard. He was a recipient of the MacArthur Fellows grant in 1987 and is the director and founder of the Broad Institute for biomedical research in Cambridge. Lander will be the first OSTP director to be elevated to a cabinet-level position, succeeding meteorologist Kevin Droegemeier in the position.


“The [president] knows that science and technology will be crucial in heeding this moment, and he has tasked us…with answering important questions that ask science and technology how they can best be used to advance our health, economic welfare, and national security,” Lander said during the White House’s Jan 16 press conference.


Sociologist and academic Alondra Nelson was nominated to be the deputy director to Lander. Nelson is the former Dean of Social Science at Columbia University and helped spearhead the Afrofuturism movement in the late 1990s. Much of Nelson’s work focuses on the intersection of biomedical research and African-American identity, with her 2016 novel The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome garnering acclaim upon release.


National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins will stay onto the tenure he has held since being appointed by the Obama administration in 2009. Collins is notable for helping launch the HEAL Initiative in 2018, which aims to mitigate the opioid epidemic in America. Collins has additionally dedicated himself and the NIH to ending sexual harassment within the NIH and the biomedical field as a whole


Geophysicist Maria Zuber and chemical engineer Frances Arnold were named co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Zuber is the Vice President for Research at MIT and has worked on extensive research with the National Air and Space Association (NASA), including the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) project in 2011. Arnold is a nobel laureate, having received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2018 and is the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering and BIochemistry at the California Institute of Technology, where she researches synthetic biology.


“As a pandemic rages, taking so much and threatening all that we love, we look to science and technology for answers,” said Arnold during the press conference. “Technology to stay connected to each other, and science to find vaccines and light our path out of darkness.”


As the pandemic persists, former FDA commissioner David Kessler will help head Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government’s initiative to speed up the manufacturing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Kessler additionally served on Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board before it was disbanded in January. The Biden Administration has announced their intention to rename Operation Warp Speed but has yet to propose a new title for the program.


Moving outside of the OSTP, Biden has named nominees for several other leadership roles in the fields of climate, energy and public health. Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy was selected for a new role, that of the White House National Climate Advisor. She will be the chief advisor on climate change policy within the U.S., leading the newly-instated Office of Domestic Climate Policy. Former Secretary of State John Kerry will serve alongside her as the inaugural special presidential envoy for climate. The creation of both roles is indicative of Biden’s climate-forward approach, with the most aggressive climate plan of any U.S. president to date.


Physician-scientist Rochelle Walensky was tapped to be the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), succeeding virologist Robert Redfield. Walensky is one of the few members of Biden’s team to be immediately appointed, as the position of CDC director does not require Senate confirmation to take office. Walensky has performed extensive research in the field of AIDS and HIV, and was previously a chair of the Office of AIDS Research Advisory Council at the NIH.


Former Governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm was nominated as Secretary of Energy. Granholm has advocated for a low-carbon future and a more sustainable auto industry, particularly within Michigan. North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) secretary Michael Regan was picked to serve as EPA administrator. Under the DEQ, Regan helped excavate extensive amounts of coal ash in North Carolina and treat chemical-contaminated water. Both Granholm and Regan, upon confirmation, will have an important role in delivering Biden’s ambitious climate agenda.


Finally, the incumbent Attorney General of California Xavier Becerra was selected to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Despite having little public health background, Becerra is an advocate for the Affordable Care Act and women’s health and, if confirmed, would be the first Latinx person to head the HHS.


Alongside his nominations, Biden, whose son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015, reinforced his dedication to cancer research and increasing efforts to stem the disease within the U.S.


“We made progress, but there’s so much more that we can do,” Biden said at the press conference. “When I announced I would not run in 2015, at the time I said I only had one regret—that I wouldn’t get to be the president to preside over cancer as we know it. As president, I’m going to do everything I can to get that done.”