Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey has served in Congress for a decade, but he’s not your average politico. The physicist is a five-time Jeopardy champion, an inventor of a solar collector, an arms-control expert and a former assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab. He likes to pop into science conferences so that he can drop terms like “impedance matching” and not catch weird stares.
Holt, 59, says the U.S. is at a critical juncture in its support of science and engineering. A new president, for example, could end the recent politicization of science. But he feels we also need to make a fiscal commitment. Our economy is fueled by innovation, yet, Holt contends, we’re not laying the groundwork for future breakthroughs. At press time, he was fighting for $500 million in emergency funding to revitalize programs at the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
We talked with Holt about the big issues facing science and government today, and why the Hill needs more lab-trained scientists.
Q: Why government? Were lab politics not enough for you?
A: From my earliest memories, I’ve been interested both in how things work in the physical world and how we as a society work. Politics is fascinating history, psychology, strategy—it really counts. It affects lives.
Q: You’ve said we need more scientists in government? Why?
A: In our society, nonscientists steer clear of science, and that goes for their representatives in Congress too. I always find it so interesting that members of Congress don’t mind dealing with economics and international relations and other subjects in which they are not specifically trained. And yet when it comes to science, they will profess ignorance and just avoid the subject.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.