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Rooney received his BS in physics from Sonoma State University in 1986 and completed his PhD at the University of California, San Diego, in 1995. His research focused on studying the effect of deposition conditions on chemical order in single crystal, thin film binary metal alloys, to determine how the kinetics of film growth and, in particular, the enhanced mobility at the surface relative to the bulk, affect the short and long range order in vapor-deposited thin metal films. From a practical standpoint, the development of advanced materials for a wide variety of applications depends on the ability to control the microstructure of vapor-deposited films, requiring a basic understanding of the kinetics of vapor deposition and growth.
While completing his graduate work, Rooney worked as a research assistant at the University of California, Berkeley's Microfabrication Laboratory as well as at UCSD's Center for Magnetic Recording Research. Both are industry-affiliated technology research centers. It was his experience working in such an environment that stimulated his interest in the issue of U.S. industrial competitiveness, especially as it relates to technology-intensive industries. He also spent seven years as a successful entrepreneur before attending college, co-founding WWC, Inc., a holding company that manages farmland and oil and gas producing properties, as well as a chain of five specialty food stores and affiliated restaurants.
One of Rooney's primary responsibilities at the NRC has been to manage the annual assessment of technical programs for the areas of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that are engaged in physical science and information science research and development. He also served as study director for three different NRC panels: the Space Studies Board Task Group on Issues in Sample Return, which examined planetary protection issues surrounding a possible Mars sample return mission; the Space Studies Board Committee on Human Exploration, which reviewed and evaluated the varied approaches NASA has adopted to manage space science human exploration missions; and the Naval Studies Board Committee on Assessment of Fire Suppression Substitutes and Alternatives to Halon, which examined the status of research and engineering directed toward developing alternative fire suppression agents to replace halons on naval platforms.
Rooney also has considerable experience in public service outside the national political arena. From 1980 to 1982 he was a member of the Board of Trustees of Sudbury Valley School, a private, non-profit elementary and secondary school in Framingham, Massachusetts, writing public relations materials and serving as a spokesperson for the school in various public forums. He was also a volunteer board member of the Sonoma County Environmental Forum in Santa Rosa, California, from 1984 to 1986, which lobbied local and regional government bodies in support of environmental issues.
The APS Congressional Fellowship program is intended to provide a public service by making available individuals with scientific knowledge and skills to members of Congress, few of whom have a technical background. In turn, the program enables scientists to broaden their experience through direct involvement with the legislative and political processes. "Fellows gain a perspective which, ideally, will enhance not only their own careers but also the physics community's ability to more effectively communicate with its representatives in Congress," said APS Vice-President Jerome Friedman. "Today's budget climate makes this ability of increasing importance as shrinking resources force hard choices between worthy projects."
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