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By Tawanda W. Johnson | May 11, 2023
In an op-ed published last August in The Houston Chronicle, Jacinta Conrad sought to teach readers why Congress must make it easier for international scientists to study and work in the US. But writing the article taught her something, too: the power of the human story.
“I had undervalued the power of personal stories in an op-ed,” Conrad, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Houston, recalled about her experience working with APS to craft the piece. “I learned how to incorporate a story as a hook into a technical argument.”
APS honored Conrad and eight others, all APS members, with the 5 Sigma Physicist Award for outstanding science policy advocacy in 2022. Recipients demonstrated substantial, impactful advocacy actions with APS Government Affairs throughout the year.
The other awardees are Ray Orbach, professor at The University of Texas at Austin; Michelle Bailey, research chemist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology; Lauren Aycock, senior systems engineer at Ball Aerospace; William Halperin, the Orrington Lunt Professor of Physics at Northwestern University; Anshu Sharma, a PhD student in computer science at William and Mary University; Frances Hellman, professor of physics and materials science at the University of California, Berkeley; Ralph Kelly, who earned his PhD in electrical at the University of New Mexico; and William Connacher, a materials science and engineering PhD student at the University of California, San Diego.
Orbach co-chaired a joint Optica/APS report that investigated ways to reduce emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from oil and gas operations. “The results of our proposed solutions can, in the short term — one to two decades — make a significant contribution toward [combatting] global warming,” he said.
Bailey, who served as a committee member for the methane report, valued the opportunity to “share this information in different forms, including a public webinar and an international workshop,” she said — forms that spurred productive discussions among diverse groups.
Aycock’s research on sexual harassment in STEM helped APS’s efforts to combat the problem, including by shaping anti-harassment provisions that were successfully included in the CHIPS and Science Act. “I hope to see measurable, positive change in the culture of scientific research,” she said.
Halperin advocated for congressional action on the federal helium supply, discussed the challenges with helium price and supply for the research community, and more. Kelly made 27 connections with Congress through APS’s action center, and Connacher made 24, on topics like combating sexual harassment in STEM, teacher preparation, and research funding.
Sharma, too, made 24 connections with Congress, on topics like methane emissions and US missile defense testing. “There are still issues on which there is potential to move members of Congress,” he said. “Through advocacy, we can build community with fellow scientists and citizens,” an important step toward policy success.
Hellman, who served as APS’s president during 2022, authored multiple letters to Congress that supported APS priorities, including developing data guidelines to improve the measurement of LGBTQI+ representation and experiences in US physical sciences.
“I think we had some amazingly positive outcomes in 2022,” she said.
To learn more about the winners and the award, visit aps.org/policy/5-sigma.cfm.
Tawanda W. Johnson is the Senior Public Relations Manager at APS.
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