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Photo Credit: Clark ThomasValerie Thomas
The APS Congressional Science Fellowship program is intended to provide a public service by making individuals with scientific knowledge and skills available to members of Congress. In turn, the program enables the physicist to gain experience in the political process.
Thomas attended Swarthmore College as an undergraduate, graduating with High Honors and a BS in physics in 1981. She pursued graduate studies at Cornell University, earning a PhD in theoretical high- energy physics in 1986 with a dissertation on the catalysis of magnetic monopole decay in grand unified theories.
While at Cornell, she became involved with nuclear arms control issues. That interest carried over into her postdoctoral research, which focused on verifying nuclear arms control treaties through the detection of solid-fueled rocket boosters and sea-launched cruise missiles.
Also as a postdoc, she helped organize the International Summer Schools on Science and World Affairs for young PhD scientists from the Soviet Union, China, the US, and elsewhere who are interested in global security and the environment.
A long-time member of the APS Forum on Physics and Society, Thomas quickly developed a specialty in "policy physics." She resumed her work on arms control when she joined Princeton University in 1988, later expanding her interests to include environmental issues.
Having worked on numerous pollutants, including lead, cadmium, mercury, nitrogen, and dioxin, she has increasingly found herself applying physics approaches to policy problems.
For instance, she uses equations describing economic market demand to understand the variables that determine the consumption of materials. In her laboratory, she is developing GPS and radio devices to track objects in the waste and recycling stream. She also teaches a course on the use of science in environmental policy at Princeton.
Thomas says she applied for the APS Congressional Fellowship to broaden her experience with policy issues and gain experience in how Congress works.
"The fellowship provides a wonderful opportunity for an academic like me to work in government," she said. "I hope to use my experience not only to help the private sector work more constructively with Congress, but more broadly, to develop a strategic vision for the continued co-development of technology, security, and environmental protection."
Following an intensive orientation process, Thomas will choose where to spend her Fellowship year, either working in a Congressional office or on the staff for one of the many associated committees. Her policy interests include environmental issues-such as reducing carbon emissions-and national security, particularly combating the growing use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons around the world.For more information about the APS Congressional Fellowship program
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