UC Berkeley science professors appointed to White House advisory council

Photo of UC Berkeley professor Saul Perlmutter
UC Berkeley/File
UC Berkeley professors Saul Perlmutter and Inez Fung expressed excitement after being appointed to President Biden's Council of Advisors.

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UC Berkeley professors Inez Fung and Saul Perlmutter were appointed Wednesday to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, or PCAST.

PCAST is a descendant of the scientific advisory committee established by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1957, according to a statement released by the White House. Its 30 members are leaders in their respective fields and are responsible for making science, technology and innovation policy recommendations to the president.

Perlmutter is a campus professor of physics, and won the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics for discovering the universe is expanding at an increasing rate. Fung, a climate scientist and campus professor of atmospheric science, said she was honored to be appointed to the council.

“It’s a great honor. Especially for somebody who came here from somewhere else, I never dreamt that I would be tapped to advise the president,” Fung said. “So it’s just having the opportunity, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to pay it back.”

After studying mathematics and theoretical meteorology, Fung has worked on the “climate problem” for about 40 years. Fung has worked in a variety of settings, including research agencies, universities and cross-institutional climate assessment reports, which makes her an asset to the council, according to Fung’s Ph.D. student Eren Bilir.

On the council, Fung hopes to contribute to President Joe Biden’s agenda on climate change, as well as to his agenda on expanding equitable education.

“My experience at Berkeley, teaching at a public university, is very important to me,” Fung said. “Not everyone has the same start, but to understand and appreciate how to bring everybody to the same level — that’s very important.”

Perlmutter also hopes his experiences teaching at UC Berkeley will add to his contributions on PCAST, on top of his experience in fundamental physics. While teaching the course Sense, Sensibility and Science, Perlmutter said he has been exploring how science interacts with decision-making in society.

Teaching the approach of science to the next generations of scientists and nonscientists alike is a question Perlmutter said he has been thinking about.

“This could help the country be able to build a stronger connection to that kind of content, to understand what the world is doing so we can be more effective in the world and solve problems together,” Perlmutter said. “We’re all on the same side in that we want humanity to do well in what is a complicated reality out there.”

Perlmutter noted that he thinks the members of PCAST are representing a larger group of scientists with important contributions. He added that he hopes his colleagues on the council will throw in “good suggestions” to help our society.

The first meeting of PCAST will go over administrative details and will take place sometime next week, according to Perlmutter and Fung.

“It’ll be fascinating to see … what do the problems look like that then we, as scientists, might be able to think about,” Perlmutter said. “Our job is to come up with helpful advice — what kinds of things could actually help the government do a better job?”

Vani Suresh is the lead research and ideas reporter. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @vanisuresh_.