President Obama Nominates Leaders for Key DOE and NSF Positions

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Publication date: 
21 August 2015

On August 5, President Obama announced a slate of nominations for key science posts in his Administration, including Cherry Murray to be Director of the Department of Energy Office of Science and Richard Buckius to be Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation

Cherry Murray

On August 5, President Obama announced a slate of nominations for key science posts in his Administration, including Cherry Murray to be Director of the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science and Richard Buckius to be Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF).  Both nominees must be confirmed by the Senate before stepping into their respective positions.

Murray is a renowned American physicist who served as the Dean of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences from 2009 through 2014.  She was the President of the American Physical Society, an AIP Member Society, in 2009, and chaired the Division of Engineering and Physical Sciences for the National Research Council from 2008 to 2013.  Murray also previously served as Principal Associate Director for Science and Technology at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and was Senior Vice President for Physical Sciences and Wireless Research at Bell Laboratories. President Obama awarded her the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2014 and Discover Magazine named her as one of the “Fifty Most Important Women in Science” in 2002.

Murray received her B.S. and Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in 1973 and 1978 respectively.  She conducted postgraduate research on ultra-high vacuum and surface physics, and became well known for her scientific accomplishments in the technique of light scattering and the study of experimental condensed matter. If successfully confirmed by the Senate, Murray will succeed William Brinkman, who served as director from 2009 to 2013.  Patricia Dehmer, Deputy Director for Science Programs at the Office of Science, has been Acting Director since Brinkman left.

The Director of the DOE Office of Science oversees the approximately $5 billion program office that is one of the world’s most powerful engines for basic and applied research and innovation.  The Office of Science oversees research programs in Advanced Scientific Computing, Basic Energy Sciences, Biological and Environmental Research, Fusion Energy Sciences, High Energy Physics, and Nuclear Physics, and is responsible for the oversight of ten world class DOE laboratories, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.  The mission of the Office of Science is “the delivery of scientific discoveries and major scientific tools to transform our understanding of nature and to advance the energy, economic, and national security of the United States.

Buckius has served as Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the NSF and close advisor to Director France Cordova since she began to lead the agency in March 2014.  As Senior Science Advisor, Buckius has helped serve as Cordova’s “eyes and ears to the ground,” as Cordova puts it.  In his COO role, which began officially in August 2014, he has coordinated and overseen NSF's cross-Foundation programs, budget and planning, facilities, and human resources. Buckius has also been supporting Cordova's external engagement with the National Science Board, White House, Congress, and the extramural research community.  Buckius also previously served as Assistant Director for NSF’s Engineering Directorate, from 2006 to 2008, and the Division Head for Chemical and Transport Systems within the Engineering Directorate, from 2004 to 2005.

Between his periods of service to NSF, Buckius was Vice President for Research and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University, where he also worked closely with Cordova, the President of Purdue University from 2008 to 2012.  Buckius is author or co‐author of numerous publications, books, and invited talks and articles in the fields of radiation heat transfer, numerical fluid mechanics, and combustion.  In particular, he co‐authored the textbook Fundamentals of Engineering Thermodynamics and is a member of the editorial boards of the scientific journals Nanoscale and Microscale Thermophysical Engineering and Heat Transfer Research.  He was Associate Technical Editor for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Journal of Heat Transfer as well.  If successfully confirmed by the Senate, Buckius will be NSF’s first Deputy Director since Cora Marrett retired in August 2014.

NSF has an annual budget of $7.3 billion and is the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities.  Its mission is “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; and to secure the national defense.

Confirmation hearings and deliberations for the Director of the DOE Office of Science, and other DOE nominees, are the jurisdiction of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, currently chaired by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Those for NSF nominees, including the Deputy Director, are the jurisdiction of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which is currently chaired by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN).  In recent years, Senate confirmations for Administration posts of all kinds have become a protracted and lengthy process, and they are often subject to anonymous holds by senators for the purpose of gaining political leverage.  As a result, there is little certainty on either the timeline for the confirmations or even whether these nominations will be successfully confirmed before President Obama leaves office in January 2017.