Sunday, June 9, 2019By:
This week Congress was back in session, and it certainly got busy very quickly! On top of usual intern tasks, I attended my first hearings, toured NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, went to several special events on the Hill, and started tackling more of my individual projects.
On Monday, Representative Kendra Horn (Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics) went to tour Goddard with a small group of staffers. As the physics intern, I am particularly interested in space issues, so they invited me along as well! It was an amazing experience learning more about NASA’s mission and seeing some of the awesome projects they have going on at Goddard. After an overview presentation, we took a bus over to the facility where they work on the James Webb Space Telescope. I was shocked to walk in and see John Mather, ready to describe the telescope specs to Representative Horn! Afterwards, I introduced myself to Dr. Mather, and we chatted a little about how exciting it is to be here for the summer, working with the Science Committee (thanks to him). I had to run off to keep up with the tour, but I hope we get the chance to talk more substantially later on.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Science Committee hosted our hearings for the week: “Ocean Exploration: Diving to New Depths and Discoveries” and “Nature in Crisis: Biodiversity Loss and its Causes.” I helped out by snapping pictures of the members and taking care of their nameplates, so I was able to attend both hearings in full. I was also thrilled to see Representative Charlie Crist at the Ocean Exploration hearing, who represents St. Petersburg—part of the Tampa Bay area, right next to my home district. As the summer progresses, I hope to ask him more about how the issues we tackle on the Science Committee are specifically relevant to us Floridians. On top of that, Sammi (the FYI Science Policy Communications Intern) stopped by to attend the hearing, too! It was fun to show her some of the things I have learned in my brief time on Capitol Hill and get lunch together afterwards.
On Thursday, the Science Committee hosted our “Ocean Expo” as part of Capitol Hill Ocean Week, and I learned a ton about the ocean. During the hearings this week, a few of the witnesses brought videos to add color (literally!) to their testimony. I found the pictures to be incredibly impactful. When I imagine the ocean, I typically think of sprawling blue expanses—certainly beautiful in their own right—but I had no idea what I didn’t yet comprehend about the vivid worlds hidden at the ocean’s depths. A couple of the witnesses stuck around in D.C. for an extra day to showcase their research at the Ocean Expo, so I had the unique chance to talk personally with them about their work. One of the big questions everyone seems to ask is: How do we get more people to care about saving the oceans? From my personal observations, it seems like the scientists and politicians have primarily addressed this issue with scary statistics on how rapidly sea temperatures could rise or coral reefs might disappear, but I have found the most meaningful inspiration to be in the individual stories—from the delight of scientists discovering colorful corals to the enthusiasm of entrepreneurs building underwater remotely-operated vehicles to explore the unknown deep-sea. I might have to do some exploration of my own when I go back to Tampa at the end of the summer.
I have felt fairly busy at the office all this week, through a combination of formal tasks and projects of my own design. I have two main ideas to continue pursuing over the summer. First, I’m hoping to connect other SPS interns with their local representatives in Congress. Hearing from the witnesses and learning about the technical backgrounds of many of our staffers has reminded me of the importance of getting scientists involved in policymaking. My hope is that this will be valuable to the other SPS interns as both a way to learn more about politics and to better inform their own representatives. I certainly hope a group of young physicists can make a compelling case for their beliefs. This would also be an exciting chance to connect with politicians from other offices that are not affiliated with the Science Committee, including my own representative from Tampa, Congresswoman Kathy Castor. My second project is regarding the acoustics of Statuary Hall. Since arriving, I have had time to think through the project details more extensively. The propagation of sound waves is extremely complex, and there are so many options to consider when approaching room acoustics analyses. The potential to undertake a project analyzing the whisper spot in Statuary Hall has given me ample reason to read up on acoustics research and measurement methodologies during all of my free time this week, which has been a fun way to continue exercising my technical knowledge. Next week, my blog post will be more about the details of these projects! Stay tuned.