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Fall 2005 Vol. 5 No. 3

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Dr. Cicerone Goes to Washington

Ralph J. Cicerone, 21st president of the National Academy of Sciences, arrived in Washington, D.C., in the midst of a July heat wave as much political as meteorological. Before he could unpack his office, Cicerone was called twice to Capitol Hill to testify before senators trying to come to grips with the scientific evidence on global climate change. Science called his testimony "politically savvy." But as a veteran atmospheric scientist and university administrator, Cicerone is no stranger to congressional hearing rooms. Indeed, his research on atmospheric chemistry and climate change has involved him in shaping science and environmental policy -- nationally and internationally -- for years.

Cicerone's research earned him a citation for the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry awarded to University of California, Irvine colleague F. Sherwood Rowland. The Franklin Institute recognized his fundamental contributions to the understanding of greenhouse gases and ozone depletion by naming Cicerone the 1999 laureate for the Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science. One of the most prestigious American awards in science, the Bower also recognized his leadership in advancing public policy to protect the global environment.

In 2001, he led a National Academy of Sciences study requested by President Bush to examine the current state of climate change science and identify the areas of greatest certainty and uncertainty. The American Geophysical Union awarded him its 2002 Roger Revelle Medal for outstanding research contributions to the understanding of Earth's atmospheric processes, biogeochemical cycles, and climate. And the World Cultural Council honored him in 2004 with the Albert Einstein World Award of Science.

Cicerone received his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he was also a varsity baseball player. Both his master's and doctoral degrees are from the University of Illinois in electrical engineering, with a minor in physics. During his early career at the University of Michigan, Cicerone was a research scientist and held faculty positions in electrical and computer engineering. In 1978 he joined the Scripps Institution of Oceanography as a research chemist, and in 1980 moved to Colorado to become senior scientist and director of the atmospheric chemistry division at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. In 1989 he was appointed Daniel G. Aldrich Jr. Professor of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine, where he founded and chaired until 1994 the department of earth system science. For the next four years, while serving as dean of physical sciences, he brought outstanding faculty to the school and strengthened its curriculum and outreach programs.

From 1998 to 2005, Cicerone was chancellor of the University of California, Irvine, where his leadership and fundraising contributed to rapid expansion at the campus and medical school as well as to UCI's growing national reputation for excellence. As NAS president, he hopes to improve communications between the scientific community and the public and build a base of support for science while taking firm stands for science in the rough and tumble world of Washington politics. As he told an interviewer from Nature, "I don't want to be part of an organization that just shoots off its mouth with opinions that are not as well-justified as can be." Instead, Cicerone wants the National Academies to stay very close to what it does best: giving nonpartisan, objective advice based on independent, peer-reviewed study of the facts by the nation's best scientists.   -- William Skane

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Copyright 2005 by the National Academy of Sciences