Communicating Science with Joseph Bernstein

Former postdoc Joseph Bernstein recently accepted a position as the Communications Lead for Physical Sciences and Engineering (PSE) with the Communications, Education and Public Affairs (CEPA) Division at Argonne. This is a new position at the laboratory created in 2012 along with similar posts in the Computing, Environment and Life Sciences (CELS) and Photon Sciences (PSC) Directorates. These roles seek to promote research and highlight the scientific discoveries of Argonne’s Directorates to the public as well as improve the laboratory’s internal communications.

Bernstein, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, began his Argonne tenure as a High Energy Physics (HEP) Engineering Assistant in September 2007 and became a Postdoctoral Appointee in March 2008.

He was an HEP Computational Postdoctoral Fellow between February 2010 and February 2012. Between his fellowship and current staff role, Bernstein was a Postdoctoral Appointee in the Argonne Leadership Computer Facility (ALCF). Bernstein’s area of expertise is in Dark Energy. He performed research including using the Blue Gene P supercomputer as part of the Dark Energy Survey collaboration.

Transitioning from active scientific research in computational and theoretical physics to a communications leadership role in the PSE Directorate was one Bernstein did not take lightly. He was seeking a position that would allow him to stay involved with the broader scientific effort while at the same time enabling him to more effectively use his skills and talents in communication, public speaking, workforce development and leadership.

“I still spend a great deal of time at a computer,” says Bernstein, “though now I am not using my computer as a pipeline to ALCF’s supercomputer.” His new position has given him many unique opportunities and challenges. He now enjoys direct access to Argonne’s senior leadership and spends much of his time meeting with different parts of the PSE Directorate assessing Argonne’s research capabilities and how to enhance the impact of the Directorate’s scientific output.

As part of his new endeavor, Bernstein has been tasked with developing a strategic communications plan for PSE along with a robust Web strategy and presence from the ground up. To accomplish this initiative, Bernstein draws on his background in analyzing data sets and information management. With his analytic mind, he assesses and sorts the different capabilities of each research division, how to best present the research they are preforming and what research to highlight to the public.

Bernstein did not develop these skills overnight. He has worked on them through numerous lectures he has given at local schools and public scientific forums where he has presented research, undergraduate courses he has taught in physics and astronomy as an adjunct professor, the “Talk to Joe the Astronomer” workforce development program he founded and the videos on science he has starred in. Bernstein intimately knows what interests the public at large on science and how to actively engage in dialogue on what scientists do and why it matters to everyday people.

Bernstein was also an active postdoc taking a pivotal role in the Postdoctoral Society of Argonne (PSA). There he moved to create a formal structure for PSA that includes bylaws and ownership of duties. He sought to move the PSA to the next level and contributed to rolling out the laboratory-wide Postdoctoral Mentoring Program and the first ever Argonne Career Fair in 2011. This year’s Fair brought in multinational corporations, international organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, other national laboratories, the United States Air Force and even think-tanks. The goal was to open up new ideas and opportunities to Argonne’s postdoctoral community. Bernstein also served as the 2011 Outreach Committee Chair for the National Postdoctoral Association. These experiences have helped prepare him for a professional, scientific communication role.

Bernstein realized early on the advantage of educational outreach, speaking to the public directly on science and making the case to politicians to invest in science. He is a strong advocate of promoting scientific research in Washington, D.C. so researchers, scientists, engineers and theorists can be heard. Getting the word out about the world-class research performed at Argonne is a necessity. Bernstein is not the only one who feels this way. Associate Laboratory Director Peter Littlewood and Deputy Associate Laboratory Director Stephen Streiffer feel this way as well. They have provided full support to Bernstein in his new position and understand well that exposure for Argonne on the world stage is an excellent way to feature the breakthrough science the laboratory is performing.

“It’s our duty as scientists to explain to the public what we do, especially as we are supported by taxpayers,” said Littlewood. “It’ our privilege to have someone as eloquent and committed as Joe in this role. Public engagement is not just about explaining our work, it’s about enthusing the public to feel engaged in the whole scientific process — and we hope to inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers.”

This public engagement also translates into greater opportunities for funding, collaborations and new ventures that lead to accelerated breakthroughs in science. By contributing to give scientists a deserved voice in the mainstream media, Bernstein is helping to create the necessary dialogue that investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is paramount to our success as a nation.

Many times it is difficult for the public and decision makers to understand the complex research being performed at Argonne. This is where Bernstein steps in to help bridge the gap. His talents in creating succinct clarity from complex information as a computational and theoretical physicist allow him to walk between two different worlds and bring them together. The public needs to know that the future of our country runs through Argonne and Bernstein is working to make sure they, along with the policy makers in Washington, are well aware of this.

Joseph Bernstein (CEPA) holds a bachelors of arts in physics from the University of Chicago, a master’s in physics from the University of Kentucky, and a master’s and a Ph.D. in astronomy and astrophysics from the University of Michigan. As a postdoc, Bernstein performed research in the Dark Energy Survey.

His research expertise is in supernova science, computational hydrodynamics and X-ray data analysis. He has applied his background in computational hydrodynamics to the cosmology simulation effort at Argonne.

He has authored more than fifteen publications across five different fields of astrophysics and has presented more than three dozen invited and contributed lectures.

January 2013

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