APS News

APS Selects New Congressional Fellows

The APS has selected two new Congressional Fellows, after having none last year. After an intensive two-week orientation that includes visits to government departments and lessons on the budget process, new APS fellows Brendan Plapp and Sherri Stephan, along with their fellow Congressional fellows sponsored by other scientific societies, settled down to work as legislative assistants for Congressional committees or members of the House of Representatives or Senate.

Plapp chose to work as a legislative assistant in the office of Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and is now in charge of a caucus on nuclear proliferation and two bills for Markey's office. Plapp credits his interest in influencing nuclear weapons policy - what he terms "fallout from the Manhattan Project" - with drawing him to physics in the first place. He envisions his role as a fellow as providing expertise and enthusiasm for science to Members of Congress and to the public at large, adding, "Only with an appreciation of the contributions science can make to our society, both the tangible and the aesthetic, will the public be willing to continue to support the scientific enterprise."

Plapp has been involved in a wide range of scientific pursuits. His doctoral and postdoctoral work at Cornell University and the University of Texas at Austin, respectively, dealt with nonlinear, nonequilibrium phenomena in fluids, as well as more traditional condensed matter physics research. His first research experiences were two summers in a biochemistry lab at the University of Iowa, and in June 1999 he participated in an oceanographic research cruise off the coast of Oregon. Plapp combines science with a parallel interest in domestic and international affairs and military issues. As an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, he studied international affairs, focusing on the Trident II missile and the nuclear tension between Pakistan and India. As a Cornell graduate student, he was an avid attendee of colloquia and discussions on arms control issues.

Stephan is working with the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, specifically on the minority staff of the Senate Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services on issues ranging from ballistic missile defense and cyber-terrorism to global satellite imaging, technology transfer issues, and the shortage of technically skilled workers. She recently received her PhD from Boston University for research in the interface between the solar and interstellar winds, for which she designed, developed, assembled, tested and calibrated the first space-based ultraviolet interferometer.

"I feel one of the most important issues facing our country is science literacy," says Stephan, and she has long been active in community outreach and public service. Since her days as an undergraduate astronomy student at the Vassar College Observatory, she has visited Boston-area elementary and secondary schools and adult education programs to teach astronomy and space science, and she also volunteered for the Boston University Observatory's Public Nights program. She participated in "Pathways," an annual program designed to bring high schools to Boston University to tour research labs. While a graduate student, she participated in political lobbying efforts through the Science Coalition, an alliance aimed at maintaining federal support of university research. Most recently she was a scientist mentor to seven young women as part of the "Eyes to the Future" education program that pairs middle school girls with local women scientists.

"Neither science nor society can function on its own," says Stephan. "As society determines science funding and priorities, society is shaped by scientific and technological innovations. Science policy is a bridge connecting the two, and something of which I want to be a part."

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette