In 1973, Jessica Tuchman Mathews was a promising young biochemist, with a departmental chair or a leadership role at a biotechnology company in her future. But she believed there were gaps in her knowledge of how science fit into society, and curiosity got the better of her. “I had this feeling that I should see what I was missing,” she says.

So Mathews left academia and traveled to Washington, D.C., as one of the first Congressional Science and Engineering Fellows sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The move changed her, life. Mathews, cofounder and now vice president of the World Resources Institute, is still working in the nation’s capital, as are many of the scientists who followed in her footsteps.

Mathews says that her arrival along with six other fellows 16 years ago more than doubled the number of Ph.D.’s then working in Congress. Now...

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