Physicists Use Scientific Skills to Improve World Through Jefferson Science Fellowships
By Tawanda W. Johnson
Jefferson Science Fellows Martin Richardson, Steven Greenbaum and Alice Bean
Three physicists are using their scientific skills to improve the world through projects that will benefit energy development in Africa; help educate faith communities about climate change; and boost economic development in Eastern Europe.
Professors Steven Greenbaum, of Hunter College; Alice Bean, of the University of Kansas; and Martin Richardson, of the University of Central Florida — all serve as science and engineering advisors through the Jefferson Science Fellows program run by the National Academy of Sciences and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the physicists’ respective academic institutions.
The program provides 13 science and engineering advisers to the State Department and USAID for one year. Fellowships are awarded to tenured professors from a broad range of science and engineering disciplines. The fellows’ home institutions pay their salaries as part of the sabbaticals they take from their careers.
Greenbaum works in the State Department’s Global Entrepreneurship Program, coordinates entrepreneurship courses for U.S. foreign service officers; builds networks of U.S. mentors to help developing countries; and helps staff technical working groups for the Poland-U.S. Innovation Program, a bilateral framework for investment in defense, health and energy.
“I’m searching for mentors who will work with innovators on renewable energy projects in Africa,” said Greenbaum, whose scientific research involves work on materials for batteries and fuel cells. “I am working with some really great partners, including the National Society of Black Physicists, the National Society of Black Engineers and MIT.”
Another highlight of Greenbaum’s fellowship was his attendance at the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Morocco.
“I found the young innovators attending the summit to be outgoing, enthusiastic about their prospects and place in the world, and hungry for the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and ideas,” he said. “Many of them were even more eager to engage me in conversation when they learned that I’m not a regular U.S. State Department official, but rather a physics professor doing renewable energy research.”
Bean, who works in the State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs, connects scientists with U.S. faith-based groups to help them understand climate change.
“The faith groups really respect my position as a scientist, and I think that the benefit is not so much from me giving them technical information, but from the shared perspective on ideas for the best engagement for both groups,” she said. “I also think that having scientists to talk to has helped them to realize that we are people, too, and are willing to engage on issues that are important to the faith community, so it has helped to bridge the perceived culture clash.”
Bean’s other projects involve forging partnerships in developing countries to increase sustainable land use and farming practices, boost the use of renewable energy technology and study faith practices related to water use.
“My scientific thinking has enabled me to approach my work using a very careful, methodical approach toward addressing these challenges,” said Bean, who worked on the scientific project CMS at CERN that led to the discovery of the Higgs Boson.
A key project for Martin entails creating international programs to support the development of small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs).
“My focus is on devising a new program that helps incubators in Baltic and East European nations develop stronger SME environments within their own countries,” he said.
Richardson, who has extensive experience in the laser field, added that his work at the State Department has been rewarding.
“I am learning at the State Department how science permeates nearly all aspects of foreign policy, and how important it is to employ strategic scientific methodology to solving the world’s most intractable problems,” he said. “…Large universities, like my own, the University of Central Florida, the second largest academic institution in the nation, need to be more involved. Too often we see Washington as an island unto itself — we must engage. I hope to bring this message home.”
Greenbaum and Bean echoed Martin’s theme of engagement.
“There is the expectation among the people who run the Jefferson Science Fellows program as well as the university administrators who agreed to pay our full salaries and benefits while we are in Washington that we will be able to engage our campus colleagues and students in science policy issues through new courses, seminars and workshops when we return to our institutions,” said Greenbaum. “To do this, I have begun taking advantage of program and personal connections made here this year.”
Added Bean, “I’ve found that people at the State Department are really interested in finding out what scientists are doing, so communicating with them and in other public forums is really important.”
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