Bill Foster, a particle physicist at Fermilab, won a special election in Illinois last week to become the newest member of the House of Representatives. He’s the third physicist in Congress! The other two are Rush Holt (D-NJ), a former professor at Swarthmore and assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, and Vern Ehlers (R-MI), who has a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Berkeley and used to chair the physics department at Calvin College in Grand Rapids.
Why three physicists and no mathematicians? Maybe because physicists are much more likely to have experience overseeing large pots of money — and by extension, to have experience asking people for large pots of money, a critical skill for aspirants to public office.
There is one Congressman with a Ph.D. in math, first-termer Jerry McNerney (D-CA). But in his professional life he’s an engineer. And algebraic topologist Daniel Biss will be a Democratic candidate this fall for State Representative in Illinois. Are there any other mathematicians in state legislatures?
If you’re running for office and want to cash in on this physics trend, you might start with Chad Orzel’s enjoyable post explaining how to talk like a physicist. Some of his suggestions are indeed things I say all the time, without thinking of them as markers of membership in the math tribe: for instance, referring to difficult things as “non-trivial,” or bad things as “sub-optimal.”