Looking for a reaction

Suzanne Parete-Koon '97
American Institute of Physics State Department Science Fellow,
Washington D.C.
Majors: chemistry and physics

"Why?"
Suzanne Parete-KoonSuzanne's interest in science began at a young age with her parents reading Carl Sagan's Cosmos to her. "I was always curious about 'why' things worked," she says. "It was never good enough to know just 'how.' Science fit in nicely with my never-ending chorus of 'whys.'" In addition to liking science, Suzanne was interested in writing, politics and people, and she sought out ways for her career to incorporate each.

Serving as a fellow.
This past year, Suzanne was accepted into the American Institute of Physics State Department Fellowship Program in Washington, D.C. Beginning in September 2008, she is serving one year in the Division of Space and Advanced Technology within the Bureau of Oceans, International Environment and Scientific Affairs. At press time, she says she could be working with policy issues concerning ITER, an experimental fusion reactor being built in France, and policy issues concerning peaceful uses of outer space.

A fascination with D.C.
Suzanne's interest in Washington, D.C., began during a cross-cultural experience there with Dr. Perry Bush. Her group met with Ohio Senator John Glenn's aid to discuss fair-housing legislation. They spent their nights sleeping at the Community for Creative Non-Violence, a federal city shelter. "I was touched by the contrast between the city's ultrawealthy and its homeless and poorer class we were sleeping beside," she says. "That started my lifelong fascination with the city and the political process."

Finding a spark.
In August, Suzanne completed her doctorate in astrophysics at the University of Tennessee. Her research focuses on thermonuclear fusion in Type 1a supernovas. It is part of a much larger effort to discover how the spark is ignited for the thermonuclear flame, which starts the nuclear reaction. Her research used models of the kinetics of an explosion and provided a shortcut that allows a more accurate modeling of nuclear synthesis than was possible with previous methods. "Science has many paths," says Suzanne. "This problem is something people have worked on for many years. There are many, many useful ways of doing this. The method I worked on is just one that is very efficient."

The excitement and mystery of science.
Having always thought of writing as a good, artistic outlet for analytical ideas, Suzanne took a science-writing course. "Science is something that's funded by the public," she says. "If we're going to do this, it's vital that we communicate the excitement and mystery back to the public. We owe them that. I felt I needed to become a better communicator in order to do that." Suzanne writes for local newspapers, magazines and public Web sites. "It's important to communicate to the public what science is doing," she says. "It gets more kids interested in science and shows the scientific method, which is a good way of thinking and problem-solving. Even if readers don't become scientists, science gives them a foundation for problem-solving in any aspect of life."