WASHINGTON--Walter Massey, poised to become the next director of the National Science Foundation, has succeeded in a series of tough jobs with an approach built on quiet attention to details and a commitment to reaching a consensus before taking action. It's a style of leadership that differs sharply from the outspoken and authoritarian method of Erich Bloch, whose six-year term ended August 31. And it's one that many scientists who know Massey say will serve him well as the foundation tries to fulfill its mission to support basic research, preserve the scientific enterprise, and strengthen scientific literacy among the general population.

"He has remarkable people skills," says physicist Gerald Garvey, a senior scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a former associate director for research under Massey at Argonne National Laboratory. "It's quite a contrast to his predecessor at NSF. When you talk with him, you get a sense that...

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