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Smithsonian Gets New Science Secretary

The Smithsonian Institution has tapped an academic administrator to take over as Under Secretary for Science, a job that entails overseeing a $300 million annual budget and about 1800 scientists, postdocs, and associated staff. Eva Pell, senior vice president for research and dean of the graduate school at Pennsylvania State University, will start in January, filling a slot that’s had interim directors since David Evans left suddenly in April 2007.

A plant pathologist, Pell, 61, has focused on understanding the effects of ozone and other types of air pollution on vegetation during her 35 years at Penn State. She took on the vice president and dean’s job in 2000 and in 2006, she pushed for the development of six cross-disciplinary institutes, including ones in the life sciences, energy and environment, and social sciences. That experience aligns well with the present intentions of the Smithsonian, says Pell, as there's now a push for more interdisciplinary efforts among its museums and research units. She also is responsible for technology transfer operations for the university.

Pell's experience in Washington, D.C., includes serving on panels and advisory boards for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the departments of Agriculture and Commerce, and the National Science Foundation.

In a statement, Pell said she is “excited and humbled” by the opportunity to help steer Smithsonian science. Pell will face a challenging transition from the university setting. The broad range of science practiced at the Smithsonian, as well as its unique nature as a semi-government, non-profit organization, could take some getting used to, says Scott Miller, deputy under secretary for science. The Smithsonian's eight research units include the National Zoo, the National Air and Space Museum, and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But that doesnt faze Pell, who plans to spend the first few months getting to know her new institution. "I need to be an excellent student to find out what their strengths are," she said.  

Photo Credit: Penn State Department of Public Information