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Chemical Engineer to Head Poland

Polish scientists gained a highly placed ally this week when the new Solidarity-led parliament tapped chemical engineer Jerzy Buzek, an active researcher at the Polish Academy of Sciences' Institute of Chemical Engineering, to be the new prime minister. "We are pleased that someone with such deep knowledge of scientific issues will be Poland's prime minister," says Andrzej Burghardt, director of the institute in the southwestern city of Gliwice.

The 57-year-old Buzek, a long-time activist in the Solidarity trade union movement, was a compromise candidate supported by both Solidarity Electoral Action--the trade union alliance that won the most votes in last month's parliamentary election--and its new coalition partner, the Freedom Union. This week, Buzek and other coalition leaders have been deliberating over whom to select for the new cabinet, including replacements for the two government officials who are most influential in scientific research: the education minister and the head of the State Committee for Scientific Research, the main granting agency.

During his 34 years at the chemical engineering institute, Buzek, a full professor, published some 50 research papers on subjects mostly related to chemical separation techniques. An expert on methods of removing sulfur dioxide from flue gases, Buzek served as Poland's representative to two international panels on global warming.

Polish science has suffered from severe funding cutbacks, both at universities and government-funded institutes, since communism fell more than 7 years ago. Burghardt, whose own institute has been hurt by low funding, hopes that Buzek will try to improve the plight of his colleagues--but any such effort will have to wait for the new coalition cabinet to decide.