APS News

Student Petition Pleads for Rational Congressional Action

More than 6,000 students have signed an APS petition calling on Congress to avoid billions of dollars worth of looming budget cuts to scientific research. As this article is being written, unless Congress acts, federal science funding will be cut by about nine percent, or about $15 billion, starting on January 2, 2013. The petition calls on the leadership of both parties to put aside their differences and work to protect the government’s investments in science.

“Research is an integral part of a student’s education in physics. And as research opportunities become restricted, it’s more and more difficult for students to incorporate that into their education,” said Tyler Glembo, government relations specialist at APS. “Students recognize how important research is and recognize that it’s a worthwhile thing for the government to invest in.”

Though the specifics of the cuts are unclear, it is likely that they would reduce federal money spent on grants across all scientific fields, including physics. Federal spending currently makes the single biggest contribution to research in fundamental physics, and many students get their start with support from federal grants and scholarships.

Known as “sequestration,” the likely science cuts would be part of a broader, federal government-wide series of budget reductions. They were set into motion to spur the 2011 Congressional “super committee” to develop a workable plan to shrink the US budget deficit. The intent was for the cuts to be so unpalatable that the commission would be forced to come up with an alternative solution. However, in a virtuoso display of dysfunctionality, the commission failed to agree upon any single plan and the budget reductions that were never supposed to take effect are less than a month away.

The idea for a student petition grew out of a webinar in July about the potential impact of sequestration on physics students. APS reached out to its student members through the Forum on Graduate Student Affairs, email, Facebook and Twitter. In addition, 28 other scientific and engineering organizations mobilized their student members to participate.

“What began as a webinar with an idea for an activity for involvement grew into something much larger,” Glembo said.

Students started hand-delivering physical copies of the petitions in person to influential members of Congress in early November.

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Editor: Alan Chodos