Office of Public Affairs
Columbia University
New York, N.Y.  10027
(212) 854-5573

Virgil Renzulli
Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs

Contact: Faye Yates, Assistant Director
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory &
Acting Director of Public Affairs
Biosphere 2 Center (914) 365-8878


Columbia University Names NSF's William Harris New Director of Biosphere 2 Center in Arizona

New York -- Columbia University today (Wednesday, September 4, 1996) announced the appointment of William Harris as Executive Director and President of Biosphere 2 Center, the innovative research and education enterprise outside Tucson, Arizona.

Since January 1, 1996, Columbia has been directing all Biosphere 2 Center activities, and during the last eight months has launched new research, education and public outreach programs in Earth and environmental sciences. Harris, a Ph.D. scientist whose specialty is chemistry, was recruited because of his strong scientific background, proven record of scientific leadership and superior interpersonal skills.

Columbia President George Rupp said: "Also important for the new job is Harris's interest and experience in developing creative ways to connect research and education, a key component of Columbia's mission at Biosphere 2 Center."

Wallace Broecker, Biosphere 2 Center's science coordinator and this year's recipient of the National Medal of Science and Blue Planet Award, was instrumental in recruiting Harris. Broecker said, "Bill Harris is absolutely the right person to head up Biosphere 2 Center and develop its significant scientific potential. He's a respected scientific leader who knows how to link research, education and public outreach. From the beginning, he was my leading candidate for the job. I'm excited that he will take over this important task."

Harris will leave a high level position at the National Science Foundation to take on the directorship of Biosphere 2 Center. At NSF, he is currently Assistant Director for the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate, with responsibility for almost $700 million of Federal funds that support research and education in mathematics, physics, chemistry materials research and astronomy. During his career at NSF, Harris helped establish partnerships between agency and industry and directed the Science and Technology Centers (STC's) Office, creating 25 new STCs that provide a way to support complex research-and-education programs, often through a multi-university consortia.

Neal Lane, Director of the National Science Foundation said: "Columbia University is indeed fortunate to have successfully recruited William Harris as its new Executive Director and President of the University's Biosphere 2 Center campus. Bill understands very well that many key scientific questions are focused where a variety of disciplines intersect. He also fully appreciates the critical need to better link research, education and public outreach. Bill is a strategic thinker, an admired leader and a quality scientist. His departure from NSF is a significant loss to the agency."

At Biosphere 2 Center, Harris will direct and build credible research programs that focus on the impact of carbon dioxide on plant life, one of the most challenging scientific problems of our time. These studies will be conducted inside Biosphere 2 Center's unique glass-and-steel domed facility.

Harris said, "This $200 million facility provides a one-of-a-kind environment where we can test the impact of carbon dioxide on the planet at a scale that is larger than any other facility in the world. Here, we can potentially test what the future may bring so that we can begin to take steps to avert catastrophe or improve our quality of life. This challenging new job gives me the opportunity of a lifetime, to try new ways of understanding how humans impact our planet -- and to teach what we learn to those who are responsible for those impacts. Together, then, we'll be able to make informed policy decisions about our planet's future. I can hardly wait to get started."

Columbia University is helping to realize the potential of Biosphere 2 Center as envisioned by co-founder Texas environmentalist Ed Bass, who from the beginning saw the project as a research tool for learning about our planet's future and an educational tool for teaching the public about the environment.

Sidney Wolff, Director of the National Optical Astronomy Observatories, headquartered in Tucson, stresses Harris's longtime interest in educational outreach programs that help the public to better understand what science and scientific discovery is all about. "Harris is a visionary who understands that things are changing and that we must change with them. He believes that scientists have a responsibility to society to make the results of their research accessible to the public and that we must try harder to inform the public about science in exciting and meaningful ways. Bill will be a real asset not only to the Arizona scientific community, but also to the state's non-scientific population," Wolff said.

Earlier this year, 15 undergraduates from throughout the United States spent six weeks at Biosphere 2 Center's first Earth Systems Field School, which gives students practical experience in field techniques widely used in environmental research. In September, 30 undergraduate students will be in residence (living in student apartments on the Biosphere 2 Center campus) to attend Columbia's first Earth Semester, a four-month course, open to science and non-science majors from colleges and universities throughout the world. Those enrolled in the course will live in student apartments on the Biosphere 2 Center campus. The programs offer courses that are taught by interdisciplinary teams of scientists who look at the interactions of physical, biological and socio-economic impacts on the planet.

Biosphere 2's Center's campus, with its hotel, restaurant and state-of-the-art conference center, attracts more than 200,000 visitors each year. Sometime in September, Biosphere 2 will host its millionth visitor.

Exciting new visitor programs, including extensive exhibits about the Earth and environment, are planned for later this year. As a conference center, the site this year alone has hosted groups ranging from the American Bicycling Society to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Ewing Symposium, a gathering of Earth Scientists from around the world.

Harris begins his tenure at Biosphere 2 Center on October 14.