Week 7: What did the nuclear physicist have for lunch?

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Monday, July 25, 2016


Tabitha Colter

Fission chips.

When I started typing up this blog, I automatically wrote “Week 5” up at the top. It was only after I began reviewing what I had done for the week and choosing what joke to use as my intro that I realized it was in fact Week 7 and that I’m almost done with my summer on Capitol Hill. This weekend as I strolled through the monuments with college friends, I realized that I feel as though I’ve been in DC for much longer than 7 weeks. In a lot of ways this city has come to feel like home and I find myself smiling fondly at cute tourists who don’t know how the Metro system works or can’t figure out that the building right next to them is the one they’re looking for. As if I wasn’t in their shoes only 7 short weeks ago! One of my favorite things about living in DC is the way the city balances the appeal of small and big cities. While it has the big city atmosphere of vibrant food choices, endless events taking place, and plenty of people to meet, it also has some qualities that make it feel smaller than it is. The building height ordinance prevents huge industrial skyscrapers from dominating the skyline and as a result you can see that Capitol dome or Washington Monument from many areas of the downtown districts. Also, DC consists of many smaller districts with unique personalities that all flow together and help create the neighborhood feel of a smaller city. Can you tell I’ve enjoyed my time here?

The work week of Week 7 consisted of a lot of meetings, a few networking opportunities, and a photo that became moderately famous. I met with a few other scientists-turned-policy-people and as always enjoyed hearing the perspective they bring to the world of politics. Another interesting meeting was a lunch with Jeff Carroll, the chief of staff for the minority side of my Committee. Apparently once a summer he has food brought in and sits down with the interns to answer questions. He talked to us about his path in politics, his take on the upcoming elections, tensions in California about water, and generally showed us how plugged in he is with the political world and with the constituents of his district. As we cleaned up from lunch, the other interns and I planned to meet back in the room at the end of the day to walk over for a special opportunity on the capitol steps.

The week before, Paul Ryan had given a lecture as part of an ongoing intern lecture series. Anticipating an influx of interns who would want to attend, they implemented a lottery system to determine what interns would be able to attend. Unfortunately, I was not selected but a whole group of Democratic and Republican interns all gathered to listen to him speak. At the end of his talk, he took a selfie to set the record for the most number of Capitol Hill interns in a single selfie. The photo sparked controversy as many news outlets and avid social media protesters noticed that almost all of the interns in Representative Ryan’s photo were white. Critics went on to take this photo as a representation of the continued elitism and lack of diversity among America’s legislative body, as well as a demonstration of the problem with the unpaid internship atmosphere of the Hill. In response, a group of Democratic interns decided that their party needed to post their own selfie to fight this image and show that there is indeed diversity among interns and specifically the Democratic interns that represent the future of the Party. Over 200 interns all lined up along the steps of the Capitol and took a photo that did look a lot different than the one posted by Paul Ryan. The interns from my committee all headed over together and we were proud to stand in the back corner of the photo and see the group of people all come together for this photo. We were all thrilled when various news articles took up the story and someday I’m sure I’ll show my grandkids a zoomed in screenshot of my blurry face from that photo.

The interns of the Energy and Commerce Committee

The end of the work week consisted of a tour of NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) led by Jose and Vanessa. Being back in a national lab setting for the first time since my internship at Oak Ridge last summer was an interesting experience and our tour was very interesting. We spent the morning helping teach middle school teachers about demonstrations that could help show students how physics concepts apply to real life. After lunch, we heard from researchers attempting to redefine the standard measurement of the kilogram, researchers creating a stronger database for bullet and casing identification for forensics, and researchers looking into the technology behind batteries and memories for cellphones.

Over the weekend, one of my best friends from school came to DC and I spent most of my days with Amy and her family or one of our other friends Alexis exploring parts of the city. The best part of that experience was getting to kayak the Potomac on Saturday morning, something I had been hoping to do for a while! Still haven’t gotten sick of showing people around the city and am looking forward to two final visits from friends and family the next few weeks before I leave!

Tabitha Colter