LAWRENCE — Alice Bean is best known for her work as a high-energy experimental particle physicist. In 2012, she was a member of the international consortium of scientists who detected the Higgs boson using the world’s most advanced scientific instrument: the Large Hadron Collider.
But Bean, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Kansas, also has a long-running passion for engaging the public with science. For instance, she has headed a group of researchers, artists and museum educators in the creation of “Quarked,” a multimedia program aimed at introducing the world of subatomic physics to kids and adults.
Now, Bean’s scholarly expertise and eagerness to carry science to society at-large has led the U.S. Department of State to name her as a Jefferson Science Fellow via a program that brings tenured American faculty in science, engineering and medicine to the department and USAID for a year, to contribute to and learn from foreign policy processes.
Specifically, she’ll work with the State Department’s Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, a post she enthusiastically sought out.
“I was interested in the JSF to see how scientists can help further inform the public policy and outreach in particular with climate change and sustainability issues,” Bean said. “For the JSF, we interview for potential positions that are developed by the State Department and USAID. This interview process was fascinating because it allowed me to see the wide range of possibilities for a scientist to help out. The Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives is a relatively new office at the State Department that started in July 2013. They were seeking a JSF to develop and launch an effort to communicate global climate change policy to critical faith-based audiences.”
In her new role, Bean plans to reach out to communities of faith anywhere in the world that are engaged with environmental issues.
“There is a need to map the existing network of religious groups — both domestically and internationally — working on global climate change and then to engage these groups and promote scientific knowledge,” she said.
Bean sees opportunity to do this, for example, in the run-up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2015.
“The UN will be very active over the next year,” she said. “There is a UN Climate Summit in New York City in September where interfaith groups will meet to prepare statements for the general assembly and discuss strategies. For instance, the Kansas Interfaith Power & Light group is chartering a bus to go to New York City for part of this meeting.”
The researcher said she aims to use her role as a Jefferson Science Fellow to foster communication, respect and alliance between scientists and religious communities.
“I’ve seen that often religious and scientific leaders are at odds and combative in their messages,” Bean said. “With this position, I’m looking forward to finding out how to work together to combat climate change instead of each other.”