Lehigh President Alice P. Gast is back in the national news for her role as chair of a panel of scientists who reviewed the scientific evidence relating to the FBI investigation of anthrax spores sent through the mail in 2001 that killed five people and sickened 17 others.
Gast was quoted in a front-page New York Times article Monday regarding new questions raised in the case by a paper to be published in the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense that examined the distinctive chemicals found in the dried anthrax spores.
Gast is quoted as saying that the paper written by three scientists “points out connections that deserve further consideration.”
Read: Scientists’ Analysis Disputes F.B.I. Closing of Anthrax Case
In 2008, the FBI asked the National Research Council to appoint a panel—whose expertise included microbiology, medicine, physical chemistry, biochemistry and forensic science—to conduct an independent review of the scientific approaches, methodologies and analytical techniques used in its investigation and to determine whether the FBI reached appropriate scientific conclusions. The FBI’s investigation connected the letter materials to a flask in the lab of a researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID).
Gast, a renowned chemical engineer who is a member of the National Academy of Engineering as well as the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Science, Technology and Law, was asked to chair the panel, which released its findings in February 2011.
The panel’s report found that it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the anthrax in the letters based on the science alone.
Photo by Christopher White