Week 8: Calm Before the Storm

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Friday, July 17, 2015


Drew Roberts

It is getting to the point in the summer when days fly by like seconds.  It seems like not long ago that I was moving in and getting accustomed to life in DC.  Now that I feel like I am getting into a groove and really understanding life on the Hill, the summer is about to end!  With a sense of needing to make the most of the little bit remaining in the summer, Elias and I spent the weekend reaching out to people on the hill and in our intern network.  We got in contact with Ben, a Mather Policy Intern from last year.  He has graduated and is doing science policy work here in the city.  With all the cool things that past Mather interns have gone on to do, it is great to be able to stay in touch as they continue down awesome career paths.  We might even get to meet Ashley, the other Mather intern from last summer, some time in the next few weeks. 

This week included a tour of NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  Even though the name might not carry as much fanfare as NASA, NIST holds its own as an awesome site of scientific excellence.  I got the chance to see research on silicon semiconductors, which gave me a great opportunity to connect and compare with our work on organic semiconductors at my lab at UNC.  Additionally, we watched a presentation by William D. Phillips, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics for laser cooling.  Although the presentation was geared for younger students, he had very cool demonstrations and surprisingly excellent comedic timing — especially for a physicist!  NIST even had an apple tree which was a descendant of Sir Isaac Newton’s tree.

  Newton's Apple Tree

The House Science Committee had two hearings this week.  The first was a very fair, bipartisan hearing on commercial weather data.  One might call it the calm before the storm.  The next hearing was on misconduct at the National Weather Service, specifically with a member of the financial team setting himself up with a lucrative contracting job starting the day after his retirement.  While no one on either side of the aisle was supportive of his actions, some members of the committee found that having a hearing centered around two individuals who no longer work at the NWS was not productive.  Instead, they wanted to hear from current employees to see what we are doing to prevent this type of misconduct in the future.  Even more absurd, was the fact that two of the three witnesses for the hearing, who were there by Congressional subpoena, were pleading the 5th and thereby refusing to answer any questions.  When Chairman Smith continued to ask the witnesses a series of unanswered questions, Mr. Perlmutter channeled his previous career as a litigator.  He started to request dozens of points of order, trying to clarify whether the witnesses were legally bound to stay.  My writing surely does not do the ridiculousness of this entire scene justice, but this hearing will certainly stay with me as a last memory!

Drew Roberts