You've worked on the collider detector, created integrated circuit designs, proton-decay detectors, etcetera. What do you consider your crowning achievement in the field?
I was pretty horizontally diversified. From a technological point of view the fact that I designed a new class of integrated circuits that I think are in their 10th generation—and they're actually being used in the big collider at CERN. The circuit that I invented in '93 is still being used in plans for 2015. That's a pretty long lifetime for any class of integrated circuit.
What will happen to your research now that you're in politics?
These are big collaborations, and they carry on. The big collaborations in higher-energy physics don't live or die with a single person.
How similar are science and politics?
I was surprised that when you get into electoral politics how scientific the analysis was in the electorate. You can identify on a state-by-state or district-by-district basis fundamental building blocks that behave in different ways. I was impressed in general with the sophistication of polling. And so that's a similarity.
I think the necessity for dealing with budgets forces a connection between quantitative pursuits and real political considerations.
There's also a very important connection in that you have politicians determining the future of scientific budgets, which is a fundamental reason that we have to work to inject more scientists and engineers in politics.
How will you increase the number of scientists in policymaking positions?
One of the fundamental principles is strength in numbers. I'm not advocating that Congress be dominated by scientists, but when I had a look at the composition of the U.S. Congress, even with a very generous definition of scientists, then roughly 4 percent have technical backgrounds.
More people with scientific and engineering backgrounds simply have to say that they're going to spend part of their lives in electoral politics explaining to the American public some of the fundamental facts about science and science policy as they relate to their public life.
Your platform for Congress was outlined on your Web site. You list "moving the economy forward" at the top of the page whereas "science and technology" is posted toward the bottom. Do these have to be two separate issues? How can science and technology be enlisted to move the economy forward?
Economic growth is equal to investment times return on investment. So you want to choose the investments that have the highest return. If you look at all of the investments our government can make, investments in science and technology are among the very highest. Those have to be put in front of voting members of Congress every time we have a change.
There's a fundamental problem that science research faces in that the benefits of science research are long-term—and in politics the investments are all about getting elected next election. It's a very similar situation in business, publicly held companies where the bonuses are based on the performances of your stock. The incentives are misaligned.
The incentives for a politician is to do whatever's necessary to get elected. But the long-term best interests of our country depend on having long-term investments made, and one of the things we're wrestling with right now is many members of Congress think they can be heroes by balancing the budget and cutting education and research. The economic damage from decisions to cut education and science research will not be felt for 10 or 30 years, and this is off the planning horizon of most politicians.