A high energy physicist from Ann Arbor, Michigan, is the new APS Congressional Fellow for 2007-2008. Matthew Bowen, who completed his graduate study at the University of Washington in 2006, will spend the next year broadening his congressional experience through direct involvement with the legislative and political process.
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. In turn, the program enables the scientists selected to gain experience in the political process.
Unlike many PhD physicists, Bowen hadn’t really thought about becoming a scientist until his undergraduate studies at Brown University. Initially, he planned on majoring in religious studies with the intent of becoming a comparative mythologist, having been inspired in high school by reading the writings of Joseph Campbell (author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, among other seminal works). However, his religious studies professors “just didn’t excite me the way I’d hoped they would,” he says.
A mechanics class and a stint in the lab with a high-energy experimental physics group at Brown tipped the scales in favor of a physics major, which Bowen completed in 2000. His thesis focused on top quark pair production at Fermilab’s D0 experiment, specifically applying commercial server applications towards the analysis of large data sets. Not only did Bowen’s work demonstrate improvement in the time needed to perform such analyses, it proved to be an excellent foundation for his graduate work on the electroweak production of single top quarks at hadron colliders.
Through his years of study, “I learned how to take a complex system, break it down, propose solutions, analyze those solutions, and communicate the final results as clearly and honestly as possible,” he says. “Performing original research also taught me to expect unanticipated developments and to quickly adapt to new realities.”
Since completing his PhD, he has continued doing research with the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics (MCTP), exploring the notion that perhaps the existence of dark matter in the universe might change how the Higgs boson is discovered. “The idea was that the particles making up dark matter might have their own Higgs boson, and this might mix with the Standard Model Higgs,” he explains. “This scenario implies that Higgs bosons with exceptionally large masses are theoretically viable. Time will tell what the LHC experiments actually find, but perhaps it will include a super-heavy Higgs.”
For all his love of physics research, Bowen is equally committed to making a difference in the world at large through his involvement with science policy. His interest was sparked when he heard Nobel Laureate Steven Chu give a colloquium on the global energy challenges we face. Impressed, in 2006, Bowen spent three months as a Science and Technology Graduate Fellow at the National Academies in Washington, DC, preparing background research and policy analysis for committee reports on a wide range of topics. The experience proved so enjoyable, he decided to apply for a Congressional Fellowship.
Following an intensive orientation process organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Bowen will choose where to spend his fellowship year: either working in a Congressional office, or with one of the many associated committees. His policy interests include US energy policy, climate change, and the future of US particle physics, particularly laying the foundation for possibly hosting the International Linear Collider.
Bowen would like to work in those areas during his fellowship year. However, “Since coming to Washington [through his National Academies fellowship] I have been exposed to a wide range of science and technology issues I would be excited to work on,” he says. Beyond the coming year, his plans have yet to take shape. He may return to physics research, but he doesn’t rule out the possibility of pursuing subsequent positions in science policy. “I guess we’ll see how the year goes,” he says.