A Kansas State University physics professor will spend the next school year serving as a scientific adviser to the U.S. Department of State as a Jefferson Science Fellow. Brett DePaola says he was inspired to seek the elite fellowship by President Obama.
DePaola is one of only 12 individuals selected to receive the fellowship for 2010-2011. Tenured academic scientists and engineers from U.S. institutions of higher learning are eligible for selection as Jefferson Science Fellows. They spend a year at the State Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development for an on-site assignment in Washington, D.C., that may also involve extended stays at U.S. foreign embassies and/or missions.
"I applied for this program because I was inspired by President Obama's call for all of us to volunteer whatever we had to offer for the good of the country," DePaola said. "As a teacher, I feel I am already making a contribution. However, as a science adviser to the State Department, I have an opportunity to contribute even more -- for one year -- before returning to my teaching and research at K-State."
DePaola and the other Fellows will not be assigned to a particular office or bureau until after they arrive in Washington, D.C., in mid-August.
"At that time, we will all be interviewed by the offices or bureaus that are interested in us, and we will be matched according to their needs and our expertise," DePaola said.
All Jefferson fellowships are contingent upon awardees obtaining an official U.S. government security clearance. In general, Fellow assignments involve providing up-to-date expertise in the rapidly advancing science, technology and engineering arenas that routinely impact the policy decisions encountered by the State Department/USAID.
"The notion is that a scientist may be able to determine the essential points, distill them, and transmit them in language that an intelligent non-scientist can understand, better than the State Department staff can do -- even in a topic outside the scientist's field. I share this belief and hope to contribute," DePaola said.
DePaola studies the interaction of matter with light research, an area of atomic, molecular and optical physics. While he said his specialization is unlikely to be of direct use to the State Department, the fundamental nature of his research has prepared him to grasp and communicate the essence of a broad range of science topics.
"While my primary motivation is to contribute in the best way I can to our country, I also hope to learn a great deal from this experience and use this to become a better researcher and teacher here at K-State," he said. "For example, being required to learn about many different science issues in order to bring greater understanding to members of the State Department should help me see my own research in the greater picture of science endeavors. Furthermore, the experience of trying to communicate complicated issues in many areas of science to non-technocrats should help me broaden my teaching skills."
When DePaola returns to K-State in fall 2011, he will remain available to the State Department/USAID for short-term projects through 2016.
DePaola, who joined K-State in 1986, earned bachelor's and master's degrees in physics from Miami University in Ohio and a doctorate in physics from the University of Texas at Dallas.
More information on the Jefferson Science Fellowship program is available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/pga/jefferson/.