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Raising the Profile of Social Science at the Department of Energy Print



Front left to right: Fellows Kerry Cheung, Ranyee Chiang,and Anthony Belvin; AAAS Fellowships Program Manager Kira Mock; Secretary of Energy Dr. Steven Chu; Fellows Marina Sofos, and Caitlin Callaghan Back left to right: Fellows Christa McDermott, Robin Hayes, Chetna Khosla, Asa Hopkins, Aimee Bailey, Ed Etzkorn, and Alison La Bonte

Last fall, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu, met with several AAAS S&T Policy Fellows who have worked on projects at the Department of Energy (DOE) during the past two years. He expressed that AAAS Fellows are key to raising the level of scientific knowledge and awareness of industry trends at the DOE. Since 1998, the DOE has hosted more than 40 AAAS Science & Technology Fellows. The Secretary thanked the Fellows for the work completed in their host offices at the DOE and reached out for their feedback.

In the roundtable discussion, Christa McDermott, 2009-11 Fellow in the office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, noted the advantages of integrating social science. “Bringing in more social scientists and focusing on the people-side of things could help achieve more of DOE’s technological goals.”

During her fellowship, Christa worked on the DOE’s emerging Home Energy Score program, which gives homeowners a numerical rating of the energy efficiency of their home. Through implementing a questionnaire, she helped assess the program from the homeowner’s perspective and recently presented the results at the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change conference in early December 2011 in Washington, DC. “How people interact with technology is important, and DOE is starting to approach it in a scientific way by collecting data.” Now, as a consultant to a government contractor, Christa is continuing to work on the Home Energy Score program.

Anthony Belvin, a current Fellow hosted in the office of Nuclear Energy, echoed the importance of social science. He helped the DOE develop strategies to remediate the nuclear reactors at Fukushima. Since the event, he has found it more difficult to gain support for nuclear energy initiatives. “People have this ‘not in my backyard fear,’ and one of the ways we can move past that is by looking at the social factors involved and getting people to see things from a different perspective.”

Asa Hopkins, a 2010-11 Fellow who worked in the Office of the Under Secretary for Science as a special assistant to then Under Secretary Dr. Steven Koonin, helped arrange the round table discussion with Dr. Chu. Asa is now director of energy policy and planning at the Vermont Department of Public Service.