Recorded: 03 Mar 2006
Well, I had a circuitous path to D.O.E. First I taught at the University of Rochester for a couple of years. Then I worked at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for four years. Then I worked at Brookhaven National Laboratory for eight years. The first four years on Long Island, just down the street from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as you know. And then the other four years actually I was on assignment in Washington, D.C. both at the Department of Energy and also at the Environmental Protection Agency, involved in what at the time was considered a very serious environmental problem. It still is to some extent, and that was the acid rain problem. So I became a member of a National Program known as the National Acid Deposition [Precipitation] Assessment Program. Very long acronym – NAPAP – which was a ten year program mostly in the ‘80s and the objective was to try to understand the processes that led to acid deposition whether it was dry deposition or through rainfall and what impacts that deposition had on living systems and also on other materials like national monuments and the like.
I meandered in and out of several departments in both laboratories so I was exposed to some parts of the biological program in both laboratories. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory for example I became very interested in statistical methods. I came to that mostly through looking at the problem of inadvertent weather modification and looking at large data sets of rainfall and trying to understand essentially the statistics of distribution both in time and space. That brought me in touch with a lot of folks at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory that were involved in biostatistics and epidemiology. And of course you know as you start looking at large databases whether it has to do with rainfall or whether it has to do with incidences of cancer, many times the statistical methods that you use are very much the same. So that was one interaction I had.
At Brookhaven National Laboratory I became quite interested in some aspects of biomedical engineering and they had strong medical programs at Brookhaven National Laboratory as well. This is also an interest that I had developed while I was at the University of Rochester: for example, better ways to measure blood pressure without using this—the method that we currently use that is notoriously inaccurate and also not using any invasive method that people wouldn’t want to be subjected to to get an accurate measure of pressure. That was one problem that we worked on quite a bit looking for example into the blood vessels in the eye and using optical ways to measure blood pressure. I don’t think we did quite as well but in the process I got to know a lot of both research physicians and biologists and got in and out of this business in both medical and biology just trying different things. I’ve always considered myself a scientific mongrel. I never like any one field for a very long time. I get, you know, very itchy after a while so I need to move on.
Anyway, as I was saying earlier about my involvement in the acid deposition problem, I got to D.O.E. interestingly enough in the middle ‘80s, actually in 1986. And the first task that I was hired there – I was still not a federal employee, I was still on assignment from Brookhaven – was to restructure the atmospheric sciences program that they had. And while I was there I was also given a tremendous opportunity to start a fairly significant program in what was emerging to be at the time a fairly serious environmental problem, continues to be to this day, which was the issue of climate change from the rise of greenhouses gases in the atmosphere. And, of course, the Department of Energy had a very strong interest since energy is the primary source of most of the greenhouse gases.
So I decided to join the government and become a civil servant because this was the opportunity given to me at the time. You know, if you were to join, there was an interest in this problem. It’s an opportunity to start a big research effort and I always liked to start new things. I always—to build capabilities and so on, so I jumped on that opportunity.
Ari Patrinos, currently is a president of Synthetic Genomics, Inc. He is best known for his leading roles in the development of the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the U.S. Human Genome Project. He earned his undergraduate degree from the National Technical University of Athens and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and astronautical sciences from Northwestern University.
Patrinos has worked in Department of Energy (DOE) Laboratory system since 1973. His research area includes biomedical engineering, atmospheric turbulence, environmental chemistry, climate change, and statistical methods. In 1995 he became the Associate Director for Biological and Environmental Research in the DOE Office of Science and was responsible for human and microbial genome programs, structural biology, nuclear medicine and health effects, global environmental change. He helped create the DOE's Joint Genome Institute (JGI) in 1997 and developed the DOE's Genomes to Life Program.
He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Geophysical Union, and a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society.