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Policy and funding

Policy and funding

Bill Foster regains US Congress seat

08 Nov 2012
Bill Foster

The former Fermilab physicist Bill Foster has regained his seat in the US House of Representatives, doubling the number of physicists in Congress from one to two. When the House convenes in early January, Foster will join fellow Democrat Rush Holt, a one-time assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, who has represented a constituency in New Jersey for the last 14 years.

Foster first won his Congressional seat representing the state of Illinois in a 2008 by-election, joining Holt and Michigan Republican Vern Ehlers to make a trio of physicists in Congress. Foster retained the seat in the general election later that year but lost it two years later when a Republican surge defeated large numbers of Democratic representatives. And when Ehlers retired in 2010, Holt was left as the sole physicist in the US Congress.

In this week’s election Foster stood in a different constituency, where the boundaries had been redrawn as a result of the 2010 census. He easily beat his Republican rival Judy Biggert, who had served the constituency for 14 years, winning 57.6% of the vote against Biggert’s 42.4%. “Our nation faces tough problems – more than a decade in the making. And there is no doubt that compromise will be required to resolve these problems,” Foster said during his victory speech.

The campaign was notable for its emphasis on science, as the constituency includes the Argonne National Laboratory and lies close to Fermilab. Moreover, Biggert had been a member of the House of Representative’s science committee, which has direct influence on government funding, including support of science. During the election, Foster noted that he would like to serve on the appropriations committee, adding that the proposed budget that Biggert and other House Republicans had approved would cut government support of non-military science by up to 30%.

Devoted to politics

Foster, 56, brings a strong résumé to his backing of science. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Wisconsin in 1975. While still at school he founded, together with his brother, a company that now makes more than half of the theatre-lighting equipment in the US. After earning his PhD in 1984 from Harvard University, he began what was to become a 22-year stint at Fermilab, managing several multimillion-dollar projects for accelerator construction and research.

As his first task, he designed and built components of the Tevatron’s CDF detector, which discovered the top quark in 1994. In the early 1990s he led a team responsible for designing an integrated circuit that ratcheted up the speed and accuracy of measuring particle collisions. Foster left Fermilab in 2006 to devote himself to politics. Indeed, as Congress’s informal physics caucus, Foster and Holt can expect to be consulted by their colleagues on science issues.

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