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Nicole Ackerman | SLAC | USA

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Scientists in Washington

This past week saw a flock (herd, swarm, or perhaps rookery) of particle physicists arrive in Washington DC (from around the US and CERN) to speak with congressional offices about particle physics and funding. Our goals were many: gain support for the President’s budget request for the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science and National Science Foundation, thank congresspeople for their past support of science, explain the larger benefits (and applications) of particle physics research, visit executive offices (DOE,budget,NSF), eat some Chinese food, and show how great physicists can look in suits. All of these goals were accomplished.

This was my first year on the trip, and I hope to do it again next year. I did find it intimidating to call congressional offices and ask for an appointment, but the actual visits were enjoyable. There were some interesting and challenging questions, such as “What is the environmental impact of the work you do at SLAC?” from an office with a big focus on green issues. One of the topics I often discussed was the practical application of accelerators and particle physics detector technologies used for the treatment of plastics and medical imaging, replacing toxic chemicals or radioactive materials. This loses a lot of its benefit if we end up harming the environment. I found a detailed report discussing a variety of aspects of SLAC’s environmental impact and shared it with the staffer who had asked me the question. This is one of the most valuable aspects of the trip – making sure that the people who are making big decisions (especially about our funding!) have all of the information they need.

Most appointments are with staffers and not the actual Senators and Representatives, but if the person we are meeting with is a science staffer it means they are relatively knowledgeable about physics research. Conversations included how New Mexico has both suffered and benefited from the nuclear science that has been done there, how rural Ohio suffers from a lack of broadband access, and how a new project in Michigan will help the economy. It felt amazing to be participating in government – to feel like as an individual citizen I can go in and make a difference.

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