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Combining a Passion for Astronomy and Policy

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Christopher Martin, PhD

2010-11 AAAS Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow®, Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space



On 8 July 2011, Chris Martin, took time from his hectic Capitol Hill schedule to enjoy a front row seat at the launch of Atlantis for the final U.S. space shuttle mission. He cheered along with a crowd of nearly one million people at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, as the shuttle began its final flight at 11:29 am that morning.

“It was a bittersweet experience,” said Chris. “It was exciting to be there and see it go up, but everyone was very aware that it was the end of this storyline.”

Chris took a sabattical from his position as professor of physics and astronomy at Oberlin College to participate in his 2010-11 AAAS-sponsored Congressional Science & Engineering Fellowship®. His Congressional placement in the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space was a natural fit; and working in the summer of 2011 for the committee that authorizes NASA provided the added benefit of the opportunity to go to the launch..

During his trip to Florida, Chris experienced first-hand that not all Congressional politics happens on Capitol Hill. He attributes the fellowship with bringing him closer to lawmakers, literally, as he found himself sitting next to two U.S. Senators on the bus to the Space Center.”If I wasn’t a AAAS Fellow, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity,” said Chris.

For him, the biggest change from academia to Capitol Hill was a combination of pace and immediate impact on the nation. He explained, “in academia, unlike the policy world, people don’t often get or lose a job based on decisions that are made. In the policy world, we are making decisions that will affect people’s daily lives.”

Thanks to his Congressional Fellowship experience, Chris is now aware of new opportunities to integrate science and policy. He plans to continue exploring that path personally and with his students in the classroom at Oberlin. Chris has redesigned curricula with an emphasis on the application of science and technology to policy in order to help train new generations of policy-savvy scientists.

Disclaimer: The perspectives and opinions expressed in the above articles do not necessarily reflect the views of AAAS, the Science & Technology Policy Fellowships, the U.S. Government, or the U.S. Congress.

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