As I was zipping back and forth between sessions, I kept passing the APS’s legislative booth, a row of computers where physicists could sit down to write their members of congress. In past years, the letters have pleaded for better funding for the physical sciences, which rarely receive big spending boosts.
But this year things are different. Stimulus is the buzzword and the Treasury’s purse is wide open. For example, the US Department of Energy‘s office of science is receiving a 20% increase to it‘s US$4 billion dollar budget, and that‘s before the additional money contained in the US$787 stimulus package. Obama’s 2010 budget, unveiled earlier this month, is also promising substantial increases.
I asked Brian Mosley (right), a legislative assistant for the APS, what they could possibly want after such a bumper year. “Nothing’s guaranteed,” Mosley says nervously. The stimulus money is “a one shot thing,” and as the 2010 budget winds its way through congress, “there will be a lot of competing interests.” Physicists will need to make the case that what’s good for them is good for the economy.
They’ve done a pretty decent job of getting there voice heard this week: Mosley tells me that 1434 of the 7500 physicists at the meeting have written their legislators. Given that probably around half or more of the people here aren’t US citizens, that’s an impressive turnout.