Research News

Prof. Rosenthal goes to Washington

Representative Phil Roe (R-TN) chatting with Prof. Sandra Rosenthal, front, graduate student Scott Niezgoda and Christina West, assistant vice chancellor of federal relations, in Washington D.C. at the 17th annual CNSF Exhibition & Reception. (David Scavone)

Last Wednesday, Sandra Rosenthal and Scott Niezgoda accepted the invitation of Christina West, Vanderbilt’s assistant vice chancellor for federal relations, to represent Vanderbilt at the Coalition for National Science Funding’s Capitol Hill day and exhibition.

Rosenthal is the Jack and Pamela Eagan Professor of Chemistry and director of the Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. Niezgoda is a graduate student who is working on third generation solar cells with the support of the National Science Foundation’s TN-SCORE award – a special program designed to strengthen Tennessee’s science and engineering infrastructure.

“I had a great time and would do it again in a heartbeat,” said Rosenthal.

A ‘good citizen’

The evening before the meetings, Rosenthal and Niezgoda took a long walk on the mall. The outing enabled her to get into the ‘good citizen’ frame of mind that she needed before venturing into the imposing halls of power.

Next morning Rosenthal found an atmosphere that was much different from what she expected, given all the polarization and contention depicted by the news media. “Everybody we talked to recognized the importance of funding science and education. We didn’t see any evidence of polarization,” she said.

In their first meeting, in fact, the scientists experienced an unusual case of bipartisanship. Originally, they were scheduled to meet with the minority staff of the House Science, Space & Technology Committee who had specific responsibilities in nanotechnology and STEM education. However, members of the majority staff showed up as well because they were interested in learning about nanotechnology.

“[rquote]They were very interested in the science we are doing, but they were equally interested in our outreach efforts,” Rosenthal said.[/rquote] “I was glad to have Scott along. He is very competent and articulate and could describe his experience as one of 10 TennScore fellows giving science lectures and demonstrations to high school and middle school students in the middle Tennessee area.”

Next the pair met with Rep. Jim Cooper’s science and education staffer who, according to West, was highly complimentary of the work Rosenthal and Niezgoda are doing. From there West escorted them to Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office, where they met with his science fellow, an electrical engineer from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and appropriations staff person. They were very interested in their research and in Vanderbilt’s collaborations with Oak Ridge.

“Alexander has an amazing outer office,” Rosenthal commented. “It’s outfitted as a museum of 19th century Tennessee history.”

Their last meeting was with Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s legislative director. Fleischmann sits on the House Science, Space & Technology Committee and his district includes Oak Ridge National Laboratory. So Rosenthal talked about her joint appointment with Oak Ridge and some of the other collaborations between the two institutions.

At the Coalition for National Science Funding’s evening reception, the two scientists had an opportunity to hobnob with some National Science Foundation officials as well as some additional Science Committee staff people.

West was impressed that Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) came to the reception and spent quite a while talking with them. He was particularly interested in the research Rosenthal and Niezgoda are doing on energy efficiency in lighting because he implemented a number of energy saving initiatives as mayor of Johnson City.

“From my perspective, it was a very successful day and I’m grateful that Sandy and Scott were able to participate,” West commented.