Bruce Alberts, Elias Zerhouni and Ahmed Zewail Named First U.S. Science Envoys

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton this week named three top scientists—Science Editor-in-Chief Bruce Alberts, Science Translational Medicine Chief Scientific Adviser Elias Zerhouni, M.D., and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Ahmed Zewail—to serve as the country’s first science envoys.


Bruce Alberts

“We’re thrilled,” said Alan I. Leshner, CEO of AAAS and executive publisher of the journal Science. “In this era when science diplomacy is so important, we are delighted that such distinguished colleagues have been selected to serve these science diplomacy roles.”

Said Alberts: “I have long been a strong advocate for enlarging the role of the scientific community in world affairs, because I have experienced the ease with which scientists can communicate across cultures, helping their societies to focus on the long-term decisions and investments required for global prosperity. I am therefore very pleased to be part of this experiment to explore how 'science envoys’ might help to build new bridges between peoples, so as to produce a better world.”

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Elias Zerhouni, M.D.

In a 3 November speech in Marrakech, Morocco, Clinton described Alberts, Zerhouni and Zewail as “three of America’s leading scientists,” and she reported that they would travel to North Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia “to fulfill President [Barack] Obama’s mandate to foster scientific and technological collaboration.”

Clinton noted further that the State Department “will also expand positions for environment, science, technology and health officers at our embassies.” The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, or OPIC, will launch a technology and innovation fund to support the new efforts, she added.

Alberts, president emeritus of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and chair of the National Research Council (1993-2005), became the 18th editor-in-chief of Science on 1 March 2008. A professor and chair of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, he has special interests in science education and international scientific cooperation.

In fall 2008, Alberts took part in a rare two-hour private meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Leshner said at that time: “Bruce Alberts joined AAAS and Science after many years of international scientific leadership. His activities have resulted in cooperative relationships with an array of influential scientists, engineers and leaders in other countries.”

Zerhouni’s appointment as chief scientific adviser for the new journal Science Translational Medicine was announced by AAAS in April this year. In a statement, he welcomed the appointment as envoy.

“Nothing is more important than an effective S&T diplomacy for our country now that the world is facing challenges in health, climate change, energy and environment that go beyond the purview of any one nation,” he said. “These challenges will require more, not less, science and technological innovation and cooperation. Creating greater bonds of understanding and collaboration in S&T is the right thing to do to achieve greater peace and prosperity for the world.”


Ahmed Zewail
[Photo © and courtesy of California Institute of Technology]

Zerhouni is a senior fellow at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program and former director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. At the time of his appointment to Science Translational Medicine, Zerhouni said: “We need to find novel and more effective ways to better understand and develop, for patients, the extraordinary advances we have made in the past few years ... We should never forget that the public supports our research not just for its own sake but for its promise to bring new and more effective approaches to health across the world.”

Egyptian-American scientist Zewail received the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for research related to femtochemistry, the study of chemical reactions that occur on an extremely short, or femtoscale (10 to the minus-15 seconds).

In a commentary published last year in The Wall Street Journal, Zewail and former AAAS President David Baltimore urged the U.S. presidential candidates to “re-energize our commitment to being the world’s leader in science technology” and pursue policies that would support young scientists across the globe.

The U.S. Science Envoy Program was proposed in April by U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), and co-sponsored in the Senate by Benjamin Cardin (D-Maryland), Edward Kaufman (D-Delaware), and John Kerry (D-Massachusetts).