Colleagues and other scientists familiar with him describe theoretical physicist Neal F. Lane, President Bill Clinton's nominee for the directorship of the National Science Foundation, as "open-minded," "straightforward," and a "consensus-builder." They also say that these and other attributes of the Rice University provost will be necessary to defend and advance basic research as budgetary constraints tighten around the science agency.

If confirmed, Lane, 54, will replace Walter E. Massey, who left the foundation last March after a two-year stint to become senior vice president for academic affairs and provost for the University of California system. NSF, with an annual budget of nearly $3 billion, is one of the major sources for individual- investigator grants in the basic sciences.

Presidential science adviser John Gibbons, who assisted the White House personnel office in its search to replace Massey, says Lane's academic background as well as the year he spent as director...

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