Jennifer Wiseman (Jordan Raddick/APS)
The APS has selected Jennifer Wiseman, currently a Hubble Fellow at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, to be its 2001-2002 Congressional Science Fellow. The APS Congressional Fellowship program is intended to provide a public service by making individuals with scientific knowledge and skills available to members of Congress, few of whom have a technical background.
"This is important because public policy increasingly is determined by technical considerations, and science is a major component of many issues with which Congress must grapple," says Michael Lubell, APS Director of Public Affairs, citing global warming, energy policy, defense technologies, AIDS, pollution, and communications technologies as examples. In turn, the program enables scientists to broaden their experience through direct involvement with the legislative and political processes, which ideally will enhance not only their own careers, but the physics community's ability to communicate more effectively with its representatives in Congress.
Wiseman's interest in science dates back to her early childhood, and she chose physics as a career because "I feel that if you understand physics, you have a basis for understanding any other kind of science." Her childhood fascination with the night sky led her to choose astrophysics as a specialization in graduate school. "I grew up in an area where you could see the beauty of the night sky very clearly and I was drawn to the idea of being able to apply what I was learning in physics to the study of the heavens," she says.
Wiseman received her BS in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1987 and had the distinction of co-discovering a comet while still an undergraduate. She participated in a short-term field research trip to Lowell Observatory in Arizona, where, under the mentorship of Drs. Edward Bowell at Lowell and Jim Elliot of MIT, she discovered an unexpected object - later deemed Comet Wiseman-Skiff - on a photographic plate taken by astronomer Brian Skiff. Wiseman concedes this was a rare occurrence for the average undergraduate: "I'm thankful to my mentor at Lowell Observatory for enabling me to make that discovery." After that initial early success, Wiseman went on to graduate school, earning her PhD in astronomy from Harvard University in 1995, with a thesis entitled "Large Scale Structure, Kinematics and Heating of the Orion Ridge," under the direction of Dr. Paul T. P. Ho. She then served three years as a Jansky Fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory before taking on her fellowship at Johns Hopkins University. At Johns Hopkins, Wiseman studies regions of star formation, specifically the conditions in interstellar gas clouds that lead to the birth of new stars.
Despite satisfaction with her research career, Wiseman decided to apply for the APS Congressional Fellowship to foster a parallel interest in integrating science into the broader context of public service. She has long been active in public outreach, giving astronomy lectures to elementary, middle and high school students and to general adult audiences since 1993. "I'm interested in many different kinds of broader issues, and this fellowship gives me a chance to use my scientific training in many areas," she says. Issues of particular concern include science education, adequate funding for responsible science, alleviating world poverty and injustice, and environmental protection.
Congressional Fellows with broad interests usually work on the staff of a Congress Member, with the particular member to be chosen in the Fall. Fellows also have the option of working on specific topical committees, such as the 2000-2001 APS Congressional Science Fellow, Sherri Stephan, who serves as a legislative fellow on the Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services.
Regardless of where she ends up serving on Capitol Hill, Wiseman is looking forward to learning about Washington and perhaps imparting some of her knowledge in turn. "I think it is important for the public and for legislators to understand the significance and excitement of the scientific discoveries they fund and to feel a part of the team," she says. "On the other hand, scientists need to understand and articulate their role as being one of public service, whether through practical solutions to problems, such as new drugs, or simply enlightening people to the wonders of the universe. I think if we can get that sort of better communication in both directions, including open dialogue that heeds public concerns of how and why scientific research is done, we can bridge the gap in perceptions that sometimes exists between scientists and the general public."
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