Alice P. Gast *84 is the president of Lehigh University and a science envoy for the U.S. Department of State. But this week, she made news for work related to her original expertise, as a chemical engineer.
Beginning in 2008, Gast chaired a panel of experts organized by the National Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences to review evidence from the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people and sickened 17 others. In a report released in February, the committee found that while the FBI had linked the anthrax spores used in the attack to a U.S. Army laboratory, that link was “not as conclusive as stated.” Based on its investigation, the committee concluded that it was “not possible to reach a definitive conclusion” about the origins of the anthrax from scientific evidence alone.
Those findings did not attract a great deal of attention – The New York Times placed its story on page A14 – but a new study in the Journal of Bioterrorism and Biodefense has put Gast’s committee back in the spotlight. According to a paper by three research scientists, there are distinctive chemicals in the anthrax spores used by the attacker, and the presence of those chemicals refutes some of the findings that the FBI cited in closing the case.
This time, the Times story ran on the front page. (A joint investigation by PBS Frontline, McClatchy Newspapers, and ProPublica also examined the scientific angle.) Gast, quoted in the Times, said that the recent research paper “points out connections that deserve further consideration.”
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