Before being elected to the U.S. Congress in 1998, physicist Rush Holt taught and researched such areas as solar spectroscopy and plasma physics. This background inspired some of his supporters in the 12th District of New Jersey to make bumper stickers that proudly read: “My congressman IS a rocket scientist!” — reflecting their growing desire “for more science, or at least more scientific thinking, in Congress,” Rush recalls. Combining a keen interest in science with politics came relatively smoothly for Rush. He inherited his interest in politics from his parents. His father was the youngest person ever elected to the U.S. Senate, at age 29. His mother served as Secretary of State of West Virginia and was the first woman to hold that position. After earning his degrees in physics, Rush served in key posts in science and education before entering Congress, where he is now serving his fifth term.
Why He’s Important: At a time when innovation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is playing an increasing role in the future of America’s economy and global competitiveness, Rush’s voice and background in science is vital in assuring that such issues are understood, supported and advanced through Congress for the benefit of us all. The only physicist currently in Congress, he is known by House colleagues as the “go to guy” in science. He is an advocate for such key issues as math and science education, biomedical research, children’s health, and sustainable energy. Among his many achievements in Congress is helping to secure more than $700 million in new federal funding for science and technology research.
Other Achievements: He is the former assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory at Princeton University — the University’s largest research facility and the largest center for energy research in New Jersey. Rush was also a five-time winner of the game show “Jeopardy.” And in 2011, he beat Watson, IBM’s computer system, in a simulated round of Jeopardy at an event to promote innovation.
Education: Rush earned his B.A. in Physics from Carleton College in Minnesota and completed his Master’s and Ph.D. at New York University. He taught physics at Swarthmore College.
In His Own Words: “Scientific thinkers have a deep appreciation for evidence. They have a realistic understanding of technology’s promises and pitfalls. Most importantly, they understand that the path towards good solutions is paved with uncertainty, trial and error.”
For more exciting role models in science and engineering, visit the USA Science & Engineering Festival www.usasciencefestival.org