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Nobel Laureate Supports Congressional Internships for Physics Undergraduates

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COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND, 11 November 2009 — John C. Mather, who shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics for his precise measurements of the primordial heat radiation of the Big Bang, is now turning his sights to a more Earthly ambition. He will spend part of his prize money to bring more physics and physicists into government.

Today, the John and Jane Mather Foundation for Science and the Arts and the American Institute of Physics (AIP) announced the creation of the Mather Policy Intern Program, an endowed program that will send two undergraduate physics majors to Washington each summer where they will spend their break working in Congress or in other government offices where policy is formulated. "The aim of the program is to promote awareness of policy process among young scientists by directly engaging them in the work that goes on in the federal government -- work that is today as exciting as in any time in the past," explained Fred Dylla, Executive Director of the American Institute of Physics.

President Obama's commitment to double the research budgets of key science agencies, invest three percent of the nation's GDP in R&D, and focus a large part of his economic recovery efforts on creating "green jobs" and other science-related programs has thrust science into the national policy debate.

Mather said that he was prompted to create and endow the internship after last year's election, when physicist Bill Foster (D-IL) was elected to Congress. Shortly after the election, Foster remarked that few elected representatives had a deep technical training. Representatives Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Rush Holt (D-NJ), the other two physicists in Congress, also support greater engagement of the scientific community with policy makers.

"Many of the problems facing the nation and the world today," said Mather, "may only be solved if their technical elements are understood -- climate change, energy supply, health care, and infrastructure, to name just a few." Mather said he decided to fund internships at the undergraduate level since, first of all, policy programs already exist for PhD level scientists, and secondly because he hoped that it would be good for students to learn about the government process during their formal education but before the focused work of graduate studies begins.

AIP will administer the Mather Policy Intern Program through two of its units, the Society of Physics Students (SPS) and the Media and Government Relations (MGR) division. A call for applications will go out December 1, 2009, and the first Mather Policy Interns will be selected in the spring of 2010.

Dr. Mather works for NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. His Nobel-prize winning research, mostly carried out in the 1980s and 1990s, centered on the careful mapping of the cosmic microwave background. He is still active in astrophysics and is the Senior Project Scientist on the James Webb Space Telescope.

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