November 5, 2008
Physicist Karl A. Erb took over the Directorship of the Office of Polar Programs (OPP) at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in November 1998. Erb had served as Senior Science Advisor at NSF since 1993. As part of the senior NSF management team, he had considerable familiarity with the management of polar programs. When he joined the OPP, his experience included representing NSF in the National Science and Technology Council review of the U.S. Antarctic Program, that resulted in the 1996 White House affirmation of the importance of the program to the nation. He also coordinated preparations for the subsequent review by the U.S. Antarctic Program External Panel. In addition, he has assisted in developing an agency-wide approach to supporting research in the Arctic. In 1986, Erb joined NSF as a program manager in the physics division after a 16-year career in research and education at Yale University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Pittsburgh. From 1989 to 1993, under two presidential science advisors, he oversaw the area of basic research in science and engineering at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
In his role as head of OPP, Erb oversees the operations of the Division of Arctic Sciences. He also heads the U.S. Antarctic Program, which manages all U.S. research on the southernmost continent. Dr. Erb has worked toward scientific cooperation between nations in his work with the International Polar Year (IPY) and has made contributions to the informal diplomacy of international science. He has received many awards and was named a Chevalier of the French National Order of Merit by the President of the Republic of France for important contributions made throughout his career to the development and enrichment of French-American relations in science and technology.
Erb is recognized for his research in experimental nuclear physics, particularly in the areas of heavy-ion science and nuclear molecular phenomena. He received his masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Michigan, and his Bachelor of Arts degree from New York University. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was recognized for his work in the public sector with the Presidential Meritorious Rank award.