Aster Presents Research to Policymakers at National Conference

by Thomas Guengerich

SOCORRO, N.M., July 25, 2008 -- Professor Rick Aster and student Jonathan MacCarthy of New Mexico Tech had an opportunity to meet national policymakers at the Coalition for National Science Funding’s 14th Annual Exhibition and Reception on Capitol Hill.

Rick Aster

Caption: Dr. Rick Aster (center) of New Mexico Tech discusses his research on “singing icebergs” and climate change with Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), co-chair of the Congressional Research and Development Caucus, and Arden Bement (right), Director of the National Science Foundation.

Aster, chair of the Earth and Environmental Science Department at New Mexico Tech, was a featured scientist. He presented his seismological research into “singing icebergs” and climate change.

Aster also had the opportunity to meet federal policy makers and discuss the importance of federal funding. Graduate student Jonathan MacCarthy got a firsthand glimpse at the importance and effectiveness of a good informational campaign.

“The conference was a wonderful opportunity to engage policy makers at the highest level and let them know that seismology is a dynamic and discovery-rich field right now,” Aster said.

More than 400 people, including seven members of Congress, participated in the event. Geoscientists discussed their National Science Foundation-funded research with Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich), Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), Foundation Director Arden Bement, and numerous congressional staffers and NSF officials who visited the earth science exhibits.

Aster, who is also the principal investigator for the IRIS-PASSCAL seismology facility at Tech, said the meeting was very productive.

“I was able to have a substantive discussion with both NSF Director Bement and NSF Deputy Director Kathy Olsen about seismology and this research,” Aster said.

Aster and MacCarthy visited lawmakers and their staff members during the day and attended an evening function sponsored by the Geological Society of America, the American Geophysical Union, and other professional organizations. Aster spoke about seismology and its importance to global monitoring, earthquake and volcano research, and hazard mitigation, as well as about trends in science funding. He also discussed his current research into “singing icebergs” near Antarctica. Aster and several colleagues will soon be publishing a paper that delves into the phenomenon of ocean sound and seismic waves created by giant icebergs.

While Aster is no stranger to the halls of Washington, D.C., MacCarthy got his first glimpse into the inner-workings of Capitol Hill.

“Learning how to pitch your science is an important skill, especially when you have to apply for grants,” he said. “When you’re doing research, it’s easy to think that money will always be there and it magically appears. This experience cast a new light for me on how we think about what we do.”

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