Only a handful of physicists have reached the halls of Congress. Bill Foster, a particle physicist and businessman just elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives from Illinois's newly drawn 11th district, wants this situation to change. The Harvard graduate knows he is one of few in any technical field to hold national office. Foster plans to use his time in the public spotlight to serve as an advocate for bringing more of his peers to Washington.
Although Foster left a career in the laboratory to pursue politics, science is never far from his mind. He says he is continually thinking of new ways to inject the rigor of science into the often messy give and take that is the essence of politics.
[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]
Why did you decide to leave science and run for U.S. Congress?
I often say that I inherited the family's recessive gene for adult-onset political activism. My father was actually a chemist. He got a degree in chemistry from Stanford. He came back from the war unhappy that his work was being used to kill people.
When he came back from the war he decided he wanted to spend part of his life in service to his fellow man. He actually wrote a lot of the enforcement language behind the Civil Rights Act. Reading his papers after he passed away a few years ago was one of the things that triggered my thinking.