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Flash Talks on Science in Policy Enlighten in Mere Minutes

Eric M. Johnson Chavarria talks about innovation labs at the sixth annual STPF Visualizing Science Policy event. | Kat Song/AAAS

Each year, the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships (STPF) program hosts a unique event designed to fuel interest and engagement in the world of science in policy and science communication. On September 26, 15 organizations set up informational exhibits about their programs and seven current and alumni fellows gave illuminating flash talks. Each fellow taught a rapt audience a few things about issues ranging from AI to the melting Arctic in just under seven minutes – speaking to 20 slides for only 20 seconds each.  

As a fellow at National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute, Eric M. Johnson Chavarria, 2017-19 Executive Branch Fellow, learned a whole new way to approach work. In his talk, “Bringing People Together for Support & Collaboration,” he described his participation in three immersive “innovation labs” where the goal was to make rapid progress forward on “intractable” problems. The labs are residential workshops that corral disparate experts together and are kicked off with a catalyzing talk, followed by idea generation where “no idea was too small or too big,” and then group discussion; the cycle is then repeated. A variety of tools were used to jumpstart collaboration: icebreaker exercises, speed networking and knowledge mapping. Johnson closed with how this type of work resonates with his lifelong mission to support teamwork. “My favorite science policy is collaboration beyond the establishment. I’ve been very fortunate to work with a lot of AAAS policy fellows throughout my time and having that support group to share ideas and frustrations, and to find ways to overcome some of these challenges.” 

“Of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic produced, only nine percent has been recycled. The rest has gone to polluting our environment,” said Winnie Lau, 2006-08 fellow at Department of State and 2012-14 fellow at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), in “Evaluating Strategies to Achieve Near-Zero Plastic Inputs into the Ocean.” Plastic in oceans affects not only marine life, it also impacts human health, tourism, fisheries, shipping, and so on. In short, it is costly. At the Pew Charitable Trusts, Lau works on a two-year initiative to develop a global roadmap for near-zero plastic input into the ocean through “evidence-based, politically and economically feasible strategies and pathways.” The plan includes economic analyses on plastic production to assess the costs and mitigation potential of various scenarios for preventing plastic flow into the ocean, and a report that examines regulatory actions taken at local, national, and international levels.  

Marissa Jablonski, 2017-19 fellow at USAID, loves to recall childhood days by Lake Michigan’s “beautiful mass of blue water” – it is a source of inspiration for her current work as a water expert in sustainability consulting. Like Lau, she also addressed the problem of plastic in “Plastics & People.” Jablonski was hired by the U.S Embassy in Thailand in collaboration with the Phuket Hotels Association to reduce the use of single-use plastics in 65 hotels in Thailand. The original plan was to put water dispensers in every hotel lobby, but Jablonski wanted to do more. She came up with a five-part model or “learning journey” to educate people on every facet of the issue -- from creating and using plastic, to disposing of it. “We use, on planet Earth, 1,000,000 plastic bottles every single minute of every day and every night. And we use just as many plastic bags,” she said. It was a success. Among the many other ways in which the hotels decreased plastic use, they saved 1.6 million straws from 2018 to 2019.  

As a biological anthropologist who has studied orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra, Roberto Delgado learned quickly as policy fellow in 2013-15 at National Science Foundation that there are more than just glaciers and polar bears in the Artic. In “Navigating the New Artic,“ Delgado told the audience that “What happens in the Artic does not stay in the Artic” and that temperatures there are warming faster than nearly anywhere else on Earth. Among many other negative impacts, melting ice affects the biodiversity, society and cultural heritage of Artic residents. A National Science Foundation program, Navigating the New Artic, supports new research communities, efforts to diversify the next generation of Arctic researchers, integrate the co-production of knowledge, and create partnerships for research. 

A clear audience favorite was Matt Holland’s poetic presentation. A 2017-18 congressional fellow sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association and also a 2018-20 fellow at the Department of Agriculture, Holland took the audience on a journey through his career in “A Mellow Hello from a Serial Fellow.” In “Data Sharing & AI,” Carla D. Cotwright-Williams, 2012-13 congressional fellow sponsored by the American Mathematical Society, explored the issue of standardized data sharing and standards in the federal government setting. In “Space Resources – The New Frontier”, Larry Meinert, 2010-11 congressional fellow sponsored by the Geological Society of America and U.S. Geological Survey, revealed the answers to questions about valuable resources from outer space: Is the hype justified? Is there a realistic business case to be made for the development of space resources?  

View the event page here for more information and a link to all of the videos. 

Author

Kat Song

Communications & Digital Strategy Director

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