About the blog: This weekly blog will serve primarily as a platform for my perspectives on energy, water-energy, and related issues, and as a platform for exchange of views with readers. I will also use the blog as a repository for my written articles and power point presentations from the mid-1990s on (see bibliography on Page 2 of this blog), covering the period when I was managing the U.S. Department of Energy’s renewable energy electricity programs (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydropower, ocean, energy storage, hydrogen, superconductivity) and the following years until retirement from DOE in 2012. It will hopefully serve as a resource for others engaged in similar pursuits and for those yet to enter these and related fields. I will also use the blog to occasionally discuss ‘random thoughts’ on other issues that catch my attention, including reference to post-retirement activities.
About the title of the blog: The word ‘physicist’ is explained below in ‘About me’. The word ‘lapsed’ refers to the fact that I haven’t done what the physics community usually defines as ‘real physics’ in quite a while (since 1974). In the spirit of full disclosure I must also confess that I stole the phrase ‘lapsed physicist’ from a British physics colleague whom I ran into in London many years ago when we were both using our training and experience on behalf of our respective governments as ‘policy-types’. When I asked him how he referred to himself now that he had forgone real physics he answered with the phrase ‘lapsed physicist’, which I took to heart immediately and vowed to use if the opportunity arose. This is that opportunity.
The ‘thoughts’ part of the title is an expression of hubris on my part, my belief that after many years in the policy world in DC I might have something useful to share with younger people about science, technology, energy and environmental policy as they take responsibility for these activities in the 21st century. This is not because I believe we did all the right things in the past – far from it – but because I believe it is important to share history so that young people can at least know what was done and then decide how to build or not build upon it. In my opinion too little history-sharing is done in government today (and undoubtedly elsewhere) because of the constant focus on ‘fire-fighting’ and reluctance to spend the time educating and mentoring our young colleagues and successors. This blog is part of my attempt to correct, in some small way, what I see as a serious shortcoming.
Trained in engineering and physics at Cornell University, ! worked as a research intern/physicist at IBM, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Texas Instruments before obtaining my Ph.D in solid state (now condensed matter) physics at Brown University in 1967. After a post-doctorate at Brown I joined the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst as a faculty member in 1968. One year later I became close friends with a new faculty member, Dr. David Inglis, who had been part of the atomic bomb project at Los Alamos during WWII. He subsequently served as a senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory from which he retired in 1969.
David introduced me to the subjects of arms control and energy and changed my life. Without going into details, I rapidly became interested in issues related to nuclear energy (New England was just entering into a public debate about nuclear power at that time) and other forms of energy, and started teaching and debating these issues in 1970. Finally, in 1974 I put my research career in low temperature solid state physics on hold by successfully applying for an American Physical Society Congressional Fellowship. Arriving in Washington, DC several months after the start of the Arab Oil Embargo and two weeks after President Nixon resigned, I chose a fellowship-year assignment as Staff Scientist with the US Senate Committee on Commerce and Transportation (subsequently to be relabeled the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation), hoping to have a broad exposure to how Congress dealt with energy and other science and technology issues.
This assignment changed my career path as I have spent the years since 1974 in Washington, DC in various policy and management positions. The attached power point, ‘Looking Back on 38 Years in Washington, DC: A Retrospective’, is the framework of a talk I gave to colleagues and friends in October 2012, shortly after retirement from DOE. The oral presentation, which fleshed out the framework and included a Q&A session, was recorded and is available upon request.